Earning Toasters in “The Hat”

By the late 70s, Calgary’s gay community was fairly established and extensive. If you boldly came out of the closet as a gay activist then, you would find a network of organizations and businesses to both support you and your work. Seeking approval from the straight community was decidedly out of fashion and gay separation was a recurrent theme in GIRC’s Gay Calgary newspaper.

In April 1979, the Alberta Lesbian and Gay Rights Association (ALGRA) was founded with representation from the Province’s biggest cities: Calgary, Edmonton, and Red Deer. Rural outreach was a priority goal for ALGRA and Calgary gays found themselves on missions in Southern Alberta to connect with rural gays as well as to coax them out of the closet.

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However, “Medicine Hat had a few shocks in store for three Calgarians who are gay and accustomed to being ‘out’,” wrote Charlotte Rochon, in the December 1979 issue of Gay Horizons.

Not only did they have a hard time trying to find a distribution prospect for their newspaper – the newsstand proprietor called Gay Horizons, “that shit,” but also the purported gay meeting place in the Hat didn’t really exist.

Fortunately, the intrepid Calgarians had a local contact whom they met for tea. It turned out that there was a covert network of gays and lesbians who might be coaxed out that evening for dinner.

Rochon wrote: “Dinner turned out to be quite encouraging after an afternoon of frustrations. Two of the contacts who came turned out to be part of the elusive underground: lesbians and gay men who do indeed have a group that meets regularly in one Medicine Hat bar that does not intimidate them. Dinner was a celebration of gays coming together”

As the evening progressed, the Calgarians were less than thrilled when they were requested to play it straight: no same-sex dancing or displays of affection. As they grumblingly cooperated  – “the closet is despicable” – they acknowledged that coming out in Medicine Hat might prove to be a riskier, and less anonymous, venture than coming out in Calgary.

They also concluded that the existence of the gay underground in Medicine Hat was a great sign – the beginning of a gay liberation movement in the Southern Alberta city.

The expedition informed Rochon’s politics. In a separate editorial, she wrote:

The gay movement should divert [its] energies away from lobbying heterosexual institutions in order to concentrate on the development of its own community.

Such a move has the potential to give our gay community the strength its members need to really ‘come out’ to be neither offensive or defensive, to simply be gay, content, beautiful, as we know ourselves to be.

The implications of community building are clear: as we grow stronger, more of us will be openly gay, more people will know us, larger and larger segments of society will come to appreciate us…. Familiarity breeds consent.

*”Earning toasters” refers to the social conservative notion of gays recruiting straights into their filthy lifestyle.  The gay community turned the notion into a joke as in, “one more recruit and I will have earned a toaster”: a primordial reward points plan.

Postscript: Brooks turned out to be a more tolerant town; their newsstand accepted Gay Horizons on the Calgarians’ road trip adventure tour.

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Vintage 70s Toaster, Image Source: eBay

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Before the Net: Calgary’s 70s Gay Press

The history of gay publishing in Calgary goes back virtually 50 years. In a time before the internet existed, local gay publications served as an essential medium for bringing the community together. They served as the connective tissue to Calgary’s LGBT body politic: allowing for reflection, celebration, and debate. They also were the main advertising vehicle for promoting gay businesses and services.

Some publications were decidedly modest affairs and others more professional. The Calgary Gay History Project presents this stroll through our community’s past press – part one….

Carousel Capers: The newsletter of Club Carousel – this monthly publication which ran from 1969 to at least 1975, was a hand typed and drawn, mimeographed affair. It grew to 24+ pages in its heyday with columns such as Chatter Box, and Cecil’s secrets. Club business, including attendance figures, budgets and meeting minutes were presented – keeping the Club leaders accountable to their membership.

Gay Information and Resources Calgary (GIRC), founded in 1975, was Calgary’s first peer support centre and community hub. It had a series of publications changing format, name, and page length – with the occasional hiatus – as budgets and volunteers waxed and waned. GIRC’s first newsletter published in late 1976 became “Gay Moods” in 1977. In January 1978, the publication changed to newsprint and a tabloid design, called “Gay Calgary.” As GIRC helped spearhead the formation of the Alberta Lesbian and Gay Rights Association in 1979, Gay Calgary became provincial. They published the first issue of “Gay Horizons” in December 1979 with expanded distribution to Red Deer, Edmonton, and later, Medicine Hat.

Gender Review: Canada’s first national transgender publication was started in Calgary in 1978 under the leadership of Nicholas Ghosh (now Rupert Raj). In the 70s, a handful of local doctors created a leading gender dysphoria clinic based out of the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine. Providing both counselling and surgical services, the Sexuality Clinic attracted trans individuals from across the country, like Ghosh, who later moved back to Toronto in 1979. Note: transgender replaced transsexual as a more expansive umbrella term for the trans community in the 1990s.

New Wine: a publication “printed for the ‘glory of God’ by members of a Christian fellowship” reads an early editorial. The monthly newsletter of Calgary’s Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), offered the meditations of a gay-positive church, as well as news, a community calendar and church happenings from MCC congregations across the country.

Dignity Alberta: was a combined newsletter for Dignity Calgary and Dignity Edmonton. Dignity chapters represented gay Catholics across the country and the 1978 issue reported a circulation of 100.

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The Calgary Gay History Project has an incomplete collection for many of these early publications. If you have any in storage and would like to donate them to the archives (we do not mind having multiple copies), please contact us – we can even pick them up.

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Gaybasher Killed in Central Park

Central Memorial Park has a history of being a cruising park for gay men, and there are many related stories of police harassment there, as well as gay bashing incidents in the now gentrified Beltline greenspace.  Yet one night, in 1979, the tables turned and a gay basher became a victim.

On Saturday, September 22nd at around 10 PM, a skirmish broke out in Central Memorial Park. The result was that Beltline resident, Thomas Earl Nash, aged 22, was stabbed in the neck with a broken bottle. A half dozen people surrounded the dying man, lying behind the Memorial Park Library.  One of Nash’s panicked friends managed to hail a cab driving by on 13th avenue, who then raced them to the Holy Cross Hospital.

Nash did not survive the night.  A silver jacket from one of the attackers was abandoned at the scene.  It was also reported that large blood stains on the sidewalk remained the next day.  The police reported that no motive had been established for the killing, but that drugs were not involved.

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Calgary Herald: Monday, September 24, 1979 page B1

The two men accused of the killing fled in a stolen car to Penticton, B.C. and were arrested by RCMP officers the following Tuesday. Brian Christopher Hawkurst, 20, and Greg Paul Spencer, 19, were charged with second-degree murder.

As the investigation proceeded, details emerged that Nash was one of three straight men who had been abusing gay men in the park. It seems that the gang of harassers hassled Hawkurst and Spencer, who then decided to hassle back. A chase ensued whereby Hawkurst and Spencer caught up to Nash at the alley behind the library, and attacked.

The alley, ironically, was well lit by a floodlight which had been installed the previous month at police request, to discourage homosexual activity in the area. Sadly, the cab driver who came to Nash’s aid reported that it was not the first time he had had to take a stabbed man from Central Memorial Park to the hospital.

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Photo: Park in 2011 by Mack Male on WikiCommons

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