Calgary Gay History Project Researcher Ayanna Smart recently left YYC to study in Ontario – we wish her all the best, and hope she returns when her studies are complete. Here are her thoughts on her participation. – Kevin
For six months last year, I was a volunteer with the Calgary Gay History Project. I was tasked with digitizing back copies of The Body Politic, an LGBT Canadian magazine that ran from 1971 to 1987. The Body Politic was one of the first and most influential Canadian LGBT publications, and was instrumental in helping build this community in Canada. Reading it now, in 2015, was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had all year.
The history of the LGBT community in Alberta and Canada is incredibly eye opening. Coming from the relative safety of the present, one can think of this period in LGBT history as one of painful battles. Seeing it though the eyes of those who were there revealed really positive and powerful attitudes and experiences. I was surprised to see how much optimism there was in the community in the 1970s, though I really shouldn’t have been. Canada’s LGBT community, post-Stonewall, was being established, growing in strength, and was very political. Because of Stonewall, this community had demonstrated evidence of their political and social power to effect change at the small and large scale. The Body Politic helped establish a supportive and politically active queer community.
In a time when people often came out ofter marrying an opposite sex parter, and coming out could easily mean losing family, the queer community was a very necessary place. The community pages and classified ads in the Body politic were full of people looking for ways to connect – to new friends, to new partners, to new social groups. Community groups were popping up everywhere, and the Body Politic made them easier to find. By helping erase isolation and build a community, the Body Politic supported the community and individuals.
The Body Politic, as is clear from the title, was also a highly political magazine. It reported on legal protections for LGBT persons, discriminatory and non-discriminatory employers, and the voting histories of political candidates. Reading through the Body Politic, I saw stories of lesbians demanding support from their unions, gay people demanding non-discriminatory media representation and queer people placing pressure on political representatives at all levels of government. The LGBT community was, at this time, very politically active.
In a time when the presence of clubs supportive of LGBT youth in schools is a contentious issue, I am encouraged by the attitude and the work of Canada’s early LGBT communities. Community is a powerful thing, and with it we can change a nation.