Tag Archives: lesbian

WWI’s Untold Queer History

Sarah Worthman, a historian and freelance researcher for the LGBT Purge Fund, released a stunning report last week about queer persecution in the First World War. Worthman writes: “There have been countless times throughout this research process where I have been told that ‘There may have been queer people in the First World War but the records of them simply do not exist.’”

Refusing to accept the historical record as silent, Worthman mined archives in Canada and the UK to find detailed records of queer sex, love, and expression within the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). The report is free to download from the LGBT Purge Fund website.

The LGBT Purge Funded report was released March 17, 2023

She says on social media: “This project is the culmination of almost two years worth of research, writing, and activism. I left a little piece of my heart in this piece and I hope that translates to the reader.”

Worthman does an admirable job illuminating an unknown past and makes the report compelling to read. The research is both thorough and inspired. In the report, she identifies 19 men who were court-marshalled for being queer—12 were imprisoned, and 7 were sent to work in a labour camp. Interestingly some were sent back to the front when their bodies were needed more than their punishment.

The report is affected by presentism: interpreting the past through a contemporary lens. Although these persecutions were clearly unjust, a new line of inquiry is why the situation wasn’t worse. There were likely thousands of queer men involved in the war effort who escaped approbation. The popularity of female impersonation amongst the troops (as well as in Canadian society at that time) makes me wonder if queer identity was allowed to flourish in specific contexts. Worthman’s report does reference the military life of Ross Hamilton, a female impersonating soldier, but largely overlooks his cultural impact and celebrity in Canada.

Many historians have written about how enabling homosocial spaces are for queer sex. In this vein, another illuminating read is My Queer War. Although not Canadian, James Lord’s autobiography of his queer life in WWII is stunning in its openness and vibrancy—upending notions of queer isolation and persecution in the mid-20th Century. I would wager some WWI soldiers might have had similar experiences of unfettered queer joy and same-sex love. Historians clearly have more to uncover!

I am very grateful that Sarah Worthman took on this challenge. We all need to know these previously untold stories of WWI queer persecution—essential to a new understanding of Canadian History.


Music for a windi weekend

Gay rights activist windi earthworm died in 1993, but his music remains. A handful of recorded public performances give us access to his colourful personality and deeply-felt political convictions.

windi earthworm in 1970’s Calgary at his Thomson Brothers Block Apartment: photo Rex Leonard

On the memorial website: “There’s a Fire Truck on My Ceiling: Windi Earthworm Remembered,” one can download three albums worth of music and spoken word performances. windi whoops, trills, and yowls in his songs; his compositions are energetic and attention-grabbing.

An active participant in the politics of the day, windi’s compositions are combative, inspired, and filled with stories of repression from state actors who have targeted “the earthworm” as enemy. windi’s cross-dressing made him both a memorable and transgressive street musician—he had a following in every city he blew into, including 1970s Calgary. windi had a keen sense of injustice, which fuelled most of his lyrics.

Lover’s Laughter by windi earthworm

His friend, Rex Leonard, remembers windi as a complete extravert seeking cultural influence through his music. Rex mused as much as windi was an anti-establishment activist, he also was in awe of the rock scene and one day hoped to be a star: “I’m not Boy George,” windi quips in a performance in Montreal, “I’m Boy Worm.” windi has particular animus for the glam rocker, David Bowie, who he feels betrayed by. “Is it true you’re not gay, what’s a matter Bowie—don’t it pay?” he sings.

We’ve previously written about windi and Anita Bryant. You can listen to windi’s own recollection of meeting Anita in the preamble to his song Jumper in the Metro.

Jumper in the Metro by windi earthworm

In 2014, an episode of Montreal’s CKUT Queer Corps radio show featured interviews, news clips, and the music of windi earthworm. Now a podcast on Soundcloud, the episode illuminates windi’s impact on Montreal and his legacy there.


Save Our Children: windi vs Anita

This week, we were interviewed about the increasing hate and incivility directed towards Calgary’s queer community—thanks to CBC’s Terri Trembath for considering hatred’s historical context!

We can take inspiration from Calgary activist windi earthworm {he preferred lowercase letters when spelling his name}, who was fighting a similar battle 45 years ago. Back then, an American beauty pageant winner and entertainer named Anita Bryant went on an anti-gay rights tour across North America. In 1977, her campaign coined “Save Our Children,” led to the repeal of a homosexual anti-discrimination ordinance in Dade County, Florida.

She said during the campaign, “For several years I have been praying for God to revive America. And when word came that there was an ordinance in Miami that would allow known homosexuals to teach my children—God help us as a nation to stand in these dark days. There are many evil things that would claim—under the disguise of discrimination and under civil rights—would claim the civil rights of our children.”

Calgarians rallied to Edmonton in 1978 and stopped drinking OJ!

Bryant, who lived in a 27-room waterfront villa on Miami Beach, was then making $500,000 annually in singing engagements. In a televised interview, she was asked: “Anita, you are a person with a rather sizeable investment in your career, why are you taking this stand now and perhaps jeopardizing that?” She replied: “According to the word of God it is an abomination to practice homosexuality … Our pastor said he would even burn a school before he would allow [children there] to be taught by homosexuals, and we feel as strongly.”

Galvanized by her win, she travelled across the U.S. and Canada and was able to roll back human rights gains in a several other American states in addition to getting legislated a ban on gay adoption in Florida (this ban was only overturned in 2008).

Her orange juice connection is this. From 1969 on, Bryant had been the spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission. She was featured internationally in commercials, singing and smiling with the well-known tagline “Breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.”

The gay community fought back against “Save Our Children.” They initiated a boycott of orange juice, publicly denounced her initiatives, and in one case threw something at her: she was the first individual ever documented to get publicly “pied.” Afterwards, she quipped: “Well, at least it is a fruit pie.”

In 1978, Anita swung through Canada as part of Renaissance International’s Christian Liberation Crusade. She made a tour stop in Edmonton on April 29, 1978. Forty Calgary activists hurried north, joining activists there, to protest her cross-Canada tour.

windi earthworm and his activist friend, My Lipton, went independently of the loosely organized “Calgarians against Anita” delegation. They decided direct action was required to disrupt Bryant’s auditorium of 6000 supporters. My remembered: “We got in under the guise that we were students doing a study about the spaces people meet in. We scoped out the stage and decided on our spot.  I helped windi chain and lock himself.”

My then went into the seats to find a spot to generate a call and response disturbance with windi, but she turned back when she noticed audience members hassling him.  She asked windi if he was OK. He replied, “Yeah, except these really kind Christian folk are ready to hang me [by the chain around his neck].”

windi earthworm in the May 1, 1978 edition of The Albertan

Bryant eventually appeared at the Northlands Coliseum under heavy police escort. windi screamed: “You have me in shackles, Anita!” She replied, “I love you and I know enough to tell you the truth so you will not go to eternal damnation.” windi called back, “You love me so much you want me in prison.”  The heckling continued intermittently throughout the event, and windi and My were detained briefly afterward for questioning by police.

Meanwhile, the Coalition to Answer Anita Bryant (CAAB), which included feminist and labour groups, fired up the 300 protesters who marched to the Legislature: the most substantial pro-gay demonstration that Alberta had ever seen to that point. The Body Politic reported, “Bryant hits Canada; Canada hits back.”

Bryant’s crusade cost her dearly. By 1980, she was divorced, the Florida Citrus Commission had let her contract lapse, and her career as an entertainer tanked. Ironically, many gay activists noted that Anita did more for their cause than anyone who had come before her. The Globe and Mail cheekily concluded: “Closet doors open on Anita.”