The rallying cry of gay liberation throughout the 1970s, was in fact coined in 1968 by pre-Stonewall American gay rights activist Frank Kameny. Frequently found on placards and buttons, the slogan also made its way into famous liberation manifestos. Lesbian activist, Martha Shelley’s 1972 booklet, “Gay is Good” was, and still is, radical and explosive:
Look out, straights. Here comes the Gay Liberation Front, springing up like warts all over the bland face of Amerika, causing shudders of indigestion in the delicately balanced bowels of the movement.”
Gay is Good was heard in Canada also. The country’s first large scale political demonstration on Parliament Hill was on August 28, 1971. Despite the rain, over 100 activists marched and picketed. Toronto Gay Action’s Charlie Hill proclaimed Gay is Good during his historic speech in support of the “We Demand” brief submitted to the federal government a week prior.
Charlie Hill delivering demands in 1971. Click photo to see CBC footage of demonstration. Photo credit: Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives.
Gay liberation made its way to Calgary in 1972 with the short-lived formation of a local chapter of the Gay Liberation Front. Calgary liberation activists mobilized around a more permanent organization in June 1976: the Gay Information Resource Centre (GIRC). In 1980 GIRC organized the first gay rights political demonstration in Alberta, with our very own “placard-waving homosexuals” on the steps of Calgary City Hall.
Gay is good.
Posted in Gay history
Tagged bisexual, Charlie Hill, Frank Kameny, gay, Gay history, gay liberation front, GIRC, human-rights, lesbian, Martha Shelley, queer, transgender, We Demand
“What does the future hold for Canada’s homosexuals? Will the time ever come when a gay couple can mix as freely in society as their heterosexual counterparts?”
These were questions posed in the epilogue of A Not So Gay World:
Homosexuality in Canada published in 1972 by McClelland and Stewart. The book, was the first non-fiction work about homosexuality published in Canada. Tellingly the authors “Marion Foster” and “Kent Murray” were pseudonyms for the real authors, a lesbian and gay man who remain unknown throughout the text except as good friends and social commentators.
Cover Image from: A Not So Gay World: Homosexuality in Canada
The book received scathing reviews from gay activists at the time. Rick Bébout’s review in Canadian Reader exclaimed: “This is a work worthy of bug eyed tourists in a foreign country. The authors do well to keep their real names to themselves.” Ed Jackson, in issue #7 of the Body Politic wrote: “what we don’t need is yet another book delineating the ‘giant shadow’ of loneliness haunting the life of the homosexual.”
However, in hindsight the book has proved to be a critical time-capsule: capturing a transition in Canadian society with a depth that few other sources can match. A Not So Gay World explores the gay community on both sides of the 1969 ‘decriminalization of homosexuality’ in Canada. As correctly pointed out by interviewed activist George Hislop, the Criminal Code amendments were not all that dramatic, “when in fact it never was illegal to be a homosexual.” Yet they were hugely symbolic and greatly affected public attitudes, in a similar way that legalizing same-sex marriage has done in our generation.
One sees the clash of gay cultures between the homophile movement of the 60s and the gay liberation movement in the 70s which flowed from University campuses. The authors clearly feel some camaraderie with the former and write nostalgically about seedy bars, outrageous characters, and just-under-the-radar shenanigans. Ironically, these same high spirited characters and their more socially conservative peers are described as antagonists to the emerging gay liberationists. University of Toronto gay activist Charlie Hill explains that he gets mostly indifference from the campus community, but “I think we get more hostility from gay people themselves, because we are a threat to their anonymity, their carefully structured lives. They do not want to change because they are afraid of change.”
Canadian society did change thankfully, because of those stubbornly proud activists, and consequently we can answer Marion and Kent’s epilogue question: YES, our time has come.
Posted in Gay history
Tagged A Not So Gay World, bisexual, Body Politic, Charlie Hill, Ed Jackson, gay, Gay history, George Hislop, human-rights, lesbian, queer, Rick Bébout, transgender