One of the delights in the Calgary Gay History Project is being connected to other queer history researchers across the country. Last month I was in Halifax for work but managed to squeeze a meeting in with Robin Metcalfe, Nova Scotia’s unofficial queer historian/force of nature.
At that meeting, Robin gave me a copy of Out: Queer Looking, Queer Acting Revisited, a book that was launched this past February. It is, in fact, a reprinting of a collection of queer history essays originally published in 1997. The decision to publish a second edition with new commentary came about for a few reasons. Robin described a renewed sense of queer activism in Halifax led by a younger generation. He noted that the community’s locus of activism has shifted from sexual orientation to issues of gender identity. He also explained that these younger activists have an expressed interest in seeking out queer elders and forming a deeper connection to a history that has been relatively unknown to the larger community.
It is a good read too. I particularly liked the story of the Turret (1976-1990), Halifax’s gay social venue and bar run by the community group Gay Alliance for Equality (GAE). The Turret’s success made GAE one of the wealthiest lesbian and gay organizations in North America. In 1977, GAE has the Tits’n’Lipstick controversy: a mural painted by a gay male artist in support of lesbian pride on a back wall of the Turret. The mural – not universally loved – ended up getting defaced by angry feminist members of GAE, and eventually painted over.
The history of the Turret is inspiring. Robin talked about how young queer activists in Halifax, and in particular the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) Queer Collective, have re-inspired him. Last year, in collaboration with artist Emily Davidson, they hosted a Turret Resurrection event and redecorated the space based on archived images, held a disco, a cabaret and a community discussion with older activists. Artist, Genevieve Flavelle even reproduced the 1977 Tits’n’Lipstick mural for the resurrection.
We see profoundly similar trends at work in Calgary – just look at our sold out Club Carousel Cabaret this past January. We also are grateful to connect with queer history peers across the country to share our findings, and see our current and past narratives come into focus.
Thank you Son Edworthy, from CommunityWise (part Calgarian, part Haligonian), who connected us to Robin!