Tag Archives: ALGRA

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.


Vintage 70s Toaster, Image Source: eBay


1979 – Linking Arms

By 1979, the gay community in Alberta was developing its political activist muscles. With support from GIRC in Calgary and GATE in Edmonton, Red Deer formed its first gay organization called the Gay Association of Red Deer (GARD). 15 people showed up to its incorporating meeting on February 24, 1979. GARD quickly took Red Deer’s newspapers to task for failing to let them advertise.

In the lead up to the Alberta Provincial Elections on March 14, 1979, activists in Calgary and Edmonton crashed political forums, asking repeatedly about the lack of human rights protections for gays in legislation. They were successful in getting the provincial New Democratic Party (NDP) to declare its support for gay rights: the first Alberta political party to take that stance. In addition, GIRC sponsored an all candidates’ forum on March 12th at the Old Y.  They were successful in getting five candidates from city centre electoral divisions to attend.

Progressive Conservative (PC) Premier Peter Lougheed was pigeonholed during the campaign in TD Square by an out gay man. The conversation was reported as follows:

Q: What is the Tory Party doing about the recommendation by the Alberta Human Rights Commission to include sexual orientation in the Individual Rights Protection Act?

A: It is under consideration.

Q: What is the Conservative party’s policy on the gay rights issue?

A: That’s a caucus decision, they will decide.

Q: What is you own position on this?

A: I don’t have one.

Peter Lougheed 1967

Bromosocial – Peter Lougheed flanked by his first elected PC caucus in 1967.  Image Source: National Post, September 13, 2012

Lougheed took his party on to a commanding victory in the election – 74 of 79 seats – but gay power was on a roll. On April 21st, the Alberta Lesbian and Gay Rights Association (ALGRA) was created in Edmonton at the conclusion of the first ever Alberta Gay Conference. 20 delegates from Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer met to coordinate efforts in human rights, rural outreach, public education, government lobbying and inter-city communication. Doug Young from Calgary and Clare McDuff Oliver from Edmonton were elected to represent ALGRA at the national level on the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Rights Coalition’s (CLGRC) Executive Coordinating Committee.


The Body Politic

The Body Politic was one of Canada’s earliest and most influential LGBT newspapers. Published from 1971 to 1987, it covered national and regional news, activism and LGBT representation and helped to connect Canada’s LGBT community.

Through my involvement with the Queer History Project, I have been reviewing the Body Politic, and specifically looking for articles about Calgary and Alberta, and national events that affected the LGBT community. After reviewing most issues of The Body Politic published in the 1970s, a picture of life for LGBT people in Canada in that decade has emerged – one of endemic prejudice, but also one of hope. I am struck by the growth of a strong community and its persistent efforts toward legal protections in the face of adversity.

The Body Politic, May 1978

The Body Politic, May 1978

Unsurprisingly, in the 1970s, homophobia and open prejudice were widespread and far more common in Canada than they are today. The lack of legal protections for LGBT persons both reflected society’s views and permitted this marginalization. For instance, in a 1977 incident, two men spotted kissing in a car in Edmonton were arrested on charges of gross indecency. The trouble did not stop there. Instead, shortly thereafter, their employers were alerted. Needless to say, being fired because of one’s sexual orientation in the 1970s was not uncommon.

Just one year later, in 1978, the Alberta School Trustees Association successfully passed a resolution requesting that the provincial government not introduce legislation preventing local school boards from “dealing with proven incidents of homosexuality among… employees, elected officials or student enrollment.” In fact, the Alberta Individual Rights Protection Act did not include sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination until a Supreme Court case two decades later in 1998.

Although Canada in the 1970s did appear to be a hostile environment for LGBT people, during that time there was also a sense of optimism amongst LGBT people. Local groups appeared in many cities, national conferences were held, and The Body Politic communicated news, issues and stories to people across the country. Our community was far better connected than it had ever been.

The power of community work was also becoming clear during this time. For example, the LGBT community supported members by helping to fund the legal costs of persons fired because of their sexual orientation. In 1976, Calgary’s Gay Information and Resources was established with the financial support of members of the LGBT community. The organization ran a counselling and information telephone line and provided resources for community members. The Alberta Gay Rights Association (ALGRA) was formed in 1979 to “coordinate efforts in the areas of civil rights, rural outreach, public education and inter-group communication.” A stronger and more united community was being formed.

From my review of the 1970s issues of The Body Politic, it seems the LGBT community of the 1970s was a more publicly visible, more political and more connected group of people than ever before. The Body Politic was a powerful tool and provided an important service during that time, conveying the many views of the LGBT community to readers across the country.