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Manitoba Gay and Lesbian Archives: Local Gay Liberation Movement

Local Gay Liberation Movement

Phil Graham

In February of 1972, the Campus Gay Club became Gays for Equality (GFE) and aligned itself with a more radical gay liberation mandate. The organization was founded by Phil Graham, a student from Minneapolis, Minnesota who had been involved in FREE: Gay Liberation of Minnesota at the University of Minnesota. GFE operated an office at the Student Union building and provided drop-in hours, counselling, a speaker’s bureau, lectures, political actions, a library, a gay info-line; they also hosted dances. GFE offered a much more open and radical approach to people’s needs as homosexuals than Happenings Social Club. One of the requirements upon acceptance of a charter that was imposed by the Attorney General was that Happenings could not make it public that they were granted the province’s recognition. GFE took the issue to town hall meetings and political campaign information sessions prior to the June 28th, 1973 provincial elections.

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This aggressive campaigning by GFE brought an inevitable divide between two groups of gays in Winnipeg who were striving for different levels of co-habitation in society. Happenings disassociated itself from GFE in order to prevent further restrictions on the gains they had made. However, for GFE the political issue of rights for gays manifested itself through the government’s rejection of acceptance and access for the community. This issue became the first focal point for a queer movement seeking liberation. From October 1st to 6th, 1973 GFE sponsored Winnipeg’s first Gay Pride Week. Events were scheduled around panel discussions, films, coffee house gatherings, musical performances and dancing. However, this Pride event was not officially recognized by the city. The first recognized Gay Pride March took place later on August 2nd, 1987 with approximately 250 attendees.

1974 National Gay Conference March

In 1974, Winnipeg hosted the 2nd National Gay Conference on August 31st, which featured an opening day march, making an increased public presence of gay rights grievances unavoidable to the populace. By 1977, an exclusively Manitoban Gay Conference was held and attended by ten unique organizations leading to the formation of the Manitoba Gay Coalition. The conference was deemed a success and drew an even larger crowd of participants than the National Gay Conference in Winnipeg. The Manitoba Gay Coalition included organizations from Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson providing it with a province wide feel as opposed to an urban Winnipeg monoculture.

The coalition had its strongest years between the late 1970s and the late 1980s when a broad yet connected group of individuals were active in multiple organizations such as The Winnipeg Gay Media Collective (1980), Council on Homosexuality and Religion (1977), Project Lambda (1977), Oscar Wilde Memorial Society (1980) and Dignity (1976).

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By 1983, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) had increased at an alarming rate across the world. Locally, organizations formed health support such as Village Clinic, and led information sessions on condom and needle use and safe sex guidelines for at-risk communities. The Manitoba Gay Coalition sponsored a Winnipeg AIDS Forum on August 14, 1983 to help provide information by inviting speakers from New York, Minneapolis and Ontario. By this point, Manitoba had no reported cases of AIDS making the efforts predominantly targeted at preventative measures.

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