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Manitoba Gay and Lesbian Archives: History of Gay Liberation Movement

History of Gay Liberation Movement

Winnipeg Gay PRide March, 1974

As history has shown, the social movements of the 1960s resulted in few lasting gains for those trying to change society. Among those deemed successful were the integrationist civil rights movement, the women’s movement and the gay rights movement. Author David Carter demonstrates in his book, Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution (New York; St. Martins Press, 2004) that only a few decades ago things were very different for gay men and lesbians:

At the end of the 1960s, homosexual sex was illegal in every [U.S.] state but Illinois. Not one law – federal, state, or local – protected gay men or women from being fired or denied housing. There were no openly gay politicians. No television show had any identifiable gay characters. When Hollywood made a film with a major homosexual character, the character was either killed or killed himself. There were no openly gay policemen, public school teachers, doctors, or lawyers. And no political party had a gay caucus. (p. 1-2)

Carter’s accurate depiction of the homophobic culture in the United States must not be used as a guideline for the Canadian gay and lesbian experience; however it is essential to understand the proximity of the United States and its pervasive channels for cultural dissemination. Homophobia existed in Canada during the same period and continues to the present, but the conditions and experiences of LGBTTQ people culminated under different social controls (See Gary Kinsman, The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual Regulation, Vancouver; University of British Columbia Press, 2010). Various incidents of seminal importance to the gay liberation movement occurred in the United States which had significant impact on both countries. Primarily, on June 28th, 1969 violence broke out when gay men, lesbians and transgendered individuals fought the police during a routine raid on a popular gay club at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City. The militant assertion of gay rights over that six-day period of rioting culminated in the formation of an organized and radical gay liberation movement which sent shockwaves throughout North America.

Conditions in Canada however were slightly different. For example, by December 21st, 1967 then Minister of Justice Pierre Trudeau’s Bill C-150 was introduced to make considerable changes to the Criminal Code of Canada including the decriminalization of homosexuality and the age of consent for anal sex was set at twenty-one (lowered to eighteen in 1988). An example of the glaring legal injustice of discrimination towards sexual orientation can be seen in the case of Everett George Klippert who received a life sentence for admitting to having had sex with a man in 1965. Bill C-150 was passed on May 14th, 1969, one month before the Stonewall Riots, to effectively decriminalize “gross indecency” and “buggery”. Trudeau’s now famous quote that “The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation,” symbolizes this relatively early legislation compared to the United States. Gay sex continues to remain unequal to the freedoms of the straight sex age of consent laws to this day. In addition by March of 1987, only Quebec, Ontario and the Yukon Territories had added “sexual orientation” protection to their human rights codes (Kinsman, Gary, The Regulation of Desire: Sexuality in Canada. Montreal; Black Rose Books, 1987: p. 14).

The Canadian gay liberation movement experienced its own national beacon moment on February 5th, 1981 during the bathhouse raids in Toronto. Similar events occurred in Montreal and Ottawa prior to the 1976 Summer Olympic Games, though the scale of resistance was unparalleled to the events in Toronto five years later. More than 150 members of the Toronto police led raids on four different downtown Toronto bathhouses, over 300 men were arrested, and the bathhouse keepers were charged with operating a “bawdy-house”. The following day, over 3,000 protestors took to the streets to mobilize against the discriminatory arrests and unlawful invasion of these gay spaces. This event culminated with the beginning of Toronto’s annual gay pride day celebrations, forming a transition from sexual regulation to resistance. Despite long-standing debate surrounding the gains of the gay liberation movement, the Manitoba Gay and Lesbian Archives demonstrates the transitions made for sexual minorities and the shaping of a community which firmly belongs in the annals of Manitoba history.