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January 28, 2010

1921- The birth of a pioneering activist

1962 – The Fruit Machine

1964 – The publication of Gay magazine

1965 – Imprisoned for the last time…but still not free!

1965 – Winter Kept us Warm

1969 – Trudeau gets out of our bedrooms

1971 – Founding of The Body Politic

1974 – The Brunswick Four – forging a movement!

1981 – Toronto police get dirty with “Operation Soap”

1992 – Come out and Enlist!

1993 – LGBTQ as refugees

1994 – “Kids in the Hall” goes on the air

1995 – Safe Zone initiatives of the mid-1990’s

1996- Sexual Freedom a Human Right

2003- Mazal Tov “Michaels!”

1965 – Imprisoned for the last time… but still not free!

January 27, 2010

In 1965, George Everett Klippert was charged in the Northwest Territorial Court with four counts of “gross indecency” for engaging in same-sex consensual acts in privacy. Klippert pleaded guilty to these charges and was sentenced to indefinite imprisonment on the grounds that he was a “dangerous sexual offender.”

Klippert was assessed as “incurably homosexual” and was detained preventatively for an indefinite period of time. In 1967, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the ruling of the territorial court and denied Klippert’s appeal. Ultimately, this decision meant that any homosexual engaging in consensual sexual acts could be imprisoned for life. If found guilty of comitting consensual homosexual acts, the only way to resist imprisonment for life would be to prove that one would not engage in the same sexual act again.

Many Canadians were outraged by the decision of the Supreme Court. This led to increased media attention and calls for reform. Much of society and government at the time still believed that homosexuality was repugnant and deviant behaviour but, that it was an illness that required psychiatric help rather than criminal prosecution. This court case culminated in the amendments to the Criminal Law Act by Trudeau in 1969.

The link below leads to a CBC Broadcast after the 1967 Supreme Court Decision against George Klippert, it expresses the prevailing idea of the day that homosexuality was a social illness rather than a criminal act.

1974- The Brunswick Four – Forging a movement!

January 27, 2010
Adrienne Potts, Pat Murphy, Sue Wells & Heather Byers

Adrienne Potts, Pat Murphy, Sue Wells & Heather Byers pictured above were the four women violently removed by the police from the Brunswick Tavern. Their story mobilized and inspired members of the LGBTQ community in Toronto to unite and stand up against the social injustices faced by members of this community in Toronto. Photo uncredited, taken from

On January 5, 1974 four women, Adrienne Potts, Pat Murphy, Sue Wells and Heather Beyer went to the Brunswick Tavern located on Bloor St. W. in Toronto for amateur night. They composed and sang a song called “I Enjoy Being a Dyke.” They were then dragged out of the tavern and verbally harassed by the police. They were not given their right to an attorney and were asked to leave the police station. When they refused, the police forcibly ejected them from the station causing injury to Adrienne Potts. The four women returned to the tavern to collect information from witnesses and were again ejected from the bar by police and this time charged with causing a disturbance.

Once the Toronto community was aware of these events a public meeting was called and a defense fund was created to support the four women and this event also mobilized and united the LBBTQ community in Toronto to stand up to police brutality and injustice.

This event marks a radical change in the history of the LGBTQ community in Canada. This event marks a pivotal moment in the history of LGBTQ action in Canada and inspired many members of the community to mobilize against police harassment and discrimination and the story of the Brunswick Four inspired a strong movement for gay liberation in Canada.

“I have heard that I was courageous. In retrospect, and in the present, it has always been an issue of basic survival – physical, emotional and spiritual. Maintaining one’s own integrity and a desire to positively influence the present societal circumstances in which I find myself and others.”

-Pat Murphy

1993 – LGBTQ as refugees

January 27, 2010

A refugee is defined under the UN Convention related to the status of refugees as someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” Many countries do not accept refugee claims based on sexual orientation; however, in 1993 Canada became one of the few countries to accept sexual minority refugee claims.

 In a 1993 Supreme Court decision, Ward v. Canada, the court systematically defined the term “membership in a particular social group” in a way that included sexual orientation as a class of refugee. Since the 1993 Ward decision, the Canadian Immigrant and Refugee Board has accepted hundreds of sexual minority refugee claimants to Canada.

 Although the process of proving a real fear of persecution based on reasons of sexual orientation is extremely difficult, the acceptance of this class of refugee is historically revealing. In just under 25 years, the climate of Canada in terms of upholding the rights of the LGBTQ community has shifted dramatically to a point where members of the LGBTQ international community can now find a safe-haven from persecution within our borders.  Vast improvements must be made to the current system however, the Ward decision marks a landmark shift in the conceptualization of refugee status in Canada.

Members of Rainbow Refugee, a Vancouver organization assisting and advocating on behalf of sexual minority refugees, march in the Vancouver Gay Pride parade. Their signs suggest that improvements should be made in the process of granting refugee status based on sexual orientation in Canada. Image by: Elasaad, Heba. “Gay Refugees Seek Legal Clarity.” Thunderbird. December 5, 2007.

1995 – Safe Zone Initiatives of the mid-1990s, including the TDSB’s Triangle Program

January 27, 2010

I am including education initiatives of the 1990s under my list of the five most important cultural developments (or events) for numerous reasons. First, prominent LGBT scholar Miriam Smith heralds the TDSB’s initiatives as some of the more important local movements impacting LBGT rights and the public’s general perspective about the LGBT lifestyle. Prior to these initiatives, cultural manifestations of LGBT support groups in the form of posters and a modified, more diverse curriculum were virtually non-existent.

The Triangle Program is as much an example of cultural importance as much as it is social, because it is making visual the existence of LBGT youth, and takes into consideration a number of culturally significant rites of passage for teens—prom nights, for example (Sears 767). Culturally, then, the Triangle Program is essential because it brings together LBGT youth in a single, protective, educational setting. It has also had an impact on university campaigns that followed, including the Positive Space Campaign which began in 1998. These cultural campaigns are essential developments, because programs like TDSB’S Triangle and the University of Toronto’s Positive Space Campaign do their part as cultural manifestations and visual disseminations of this support, often in the forms of posters on public buildings.

The Positive Space campaign, along with other school campaigns in the 1990s, is essential to LGBT cultural history largely because of the posters it uses; these posters act as visual manifestations of acceptance. Imagine how school spaces would be perceived by LGBT youth if these posters were not posted on school walls.

1996 – Sexual Freedom a Human Right

January 27, 2010

On May 9, 1996, the Canadian queer community won a twenty-year battle when Bill C-33, an amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) was adopted in the House of Commons by a vote of 153-76 (Warner, 214). The CHRA was passed in 1977, to provide Canadians with equal opportunity and freedom from discrimination based on grounds including gender, ability, ethnicity and religion. The 1996 amendment explicitly bans discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation.” The act says that queer Canadians are entitled to “an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives they are able and wish to have…” (Section 2).

Since the Mulroney government in the 1980’s, gay activists have attempted to push the federal government to prohibit discimination in employment, access to services, and rights on the basis of sexual orientation. In 1992, Kim Campbell (then Justice Minister) tabled the amendments to the CHRA but after much controversy over whether or not to recognize same-sex marriages, the bill died when Parliament was prorogued in 1993.

The struggle made incremental progress, for example, with the Chretien government passing Bill C-41 (1995) enforcing tougher sentencing on hate-crimes, including among them crimes based on sexual orientation.  There was ongoing opposition from many religious and conservative groups against including sexual orientation in the Canadian Human Right Act, including from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada who pitted one fundamental human right against another, saying that “inclusion of sexual orientation could affect the freedom of speech and religious freedom of many Canadians who believe homosexual practice to be immoral” (Warner, 213).

The amendment to the CHRA was a major victory for the LGBTTQ community and a turning point in the agenda of gay liberation movements. The prominence of the rights struggle on the Canadian political agenda made gay issues more visible to mainstream Canadians. However, some gay liberation activists criticized the movement for seeing changes in policy as ends in themselves and not as effective means of changing social norms and combating homophobia and heterosexism (Warner, 215-17).

This graph, from a government research paper examining the role of the CHRA in advancing queer equality rights in Canada, shows the history of complaints on the basis of sexual orientation in employment and services (section 7),  discriminatory practices (section 10) and harassment (section 14).

2003 – Mazal Tov “Michaels”

January 27, 2010

Ontario becomes the first province to pass a law legally recognizing same-sex marriages.  The law says that “The existing common law definition of marriage violates the couple’s equality rights on the basis of sexual orientation under (the Charter)” (CBC News In-Depth).

Stark and Leshner

Stark and Leshner - aka "The Michaels" sign their marriage license, June 10, 2003, in Toronto. (

The first couple to take advantage of the law are Michael Stark & Michael Leshner – known as “The Michaels”, who have been involved in the case since 2000 (Warner 222). “The Michaels”  become international icons and are voted Newsmakers of the Year by Time Magazine Canada. Their victory has much wider symbolic impact; according to Time’s Canadian bureau chief Steven Frank, “The two men have come to symbolize something much bigger: the unprecedented acceleration of social liberalism in Canada …2003 will go down in history as the year that Canada rethought what was taboo.”(

The rest of the provinces follow Ontario’s lead. Finally, in July of 2005, after years of legal battles and public advocacy, Bill C-38 – Law on Civil Marriage, the law giving same-sex couples the legal right to marry, receives royal assent and becomes law under the Paul Martin federal Liberal government. Opposition leader Stephen Harper says that he will revisit the vote if he is elected Prime Minster. In 2006, the ruling Conservative government tables a motion in the House of Commons to reopen the same-sex marriage debate. Twelve Tories — including five cabinet ministers — break from party lines and vote against the motion, to defeat it by a vote of 175-123.

1962- “The Fruit Machine”

January 27, 2010
Although the original has been destroyed and was a much more complex piece of machinery, a similar device to the “fruit machine” is displayed at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa to exhibit the activities of the RCMP during the Cold War era. Photo from:


Taking its lead from McCarthyism in the United States, the RCMP, during the Cold War, began purging homosexuals from positions in the Canadian Government. The government feared that gays in the civil service, military and RCMP were associated with Communism and were seen as threats to national security. Although there was very little evidence that homosexuals were actually targets of Soviet blackmail, many people lost their jobs.

RCMP policy was to fire all known homosexuals. An investigative unit of the RCMP called Section A-3, was set up to hunt down homosexuals. Informants would watch bars, theatres and parks for homosexuals and also ask other known homosexuals to be informants. An index of known and suspected homosexuals was compiled by the RCMP. In 1965, this index reached over 8,200 names in the Ottawa area alone. This method of investigating and indexing, proved costly and time consuming and in addition, even when identified, the RCMP could never be certain of the suspect’s sexual orientation.

 The culmination of the Security Panel investigation was research in to the “scientific” detection of homosexuals. In 1962, Professor Wake, of Carleton University, created a report on a “fruit machine” said to be an efficient and scientific way of detecting homosexuals. This machine detected the pupil response of a subject viewing naked or semi-naked images of women or men. It was hoped that this would become a screening test for those applying to the government. This technology was based on a series of flawed assumptions and is a shameful chapter in Canadian history. The “fruit machine” project was ultimately abandoned in 1967.

Although the impact of the “fruit machine” research was relatively small, the purging of homosexuals from the Canadian government is emblematic of the Cold War era and the highly negative and discriminatory acts committed against members of the LGBTQ community during this time. Despite its significance, this event has effectively been erased from Canadian historical memory. Especially for students, this serves as an important event to remember the consequences of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

See the link below for a piece on the “fruit machine” from the CBC digital archives:

RCMP uses \’fruit machine\’ to detect gays. The CBC Digital Archives Website. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Last updated: June 25, 2009.

1992, October 27 – Come out and enlist!

January 27, 2010

Before 1992, homosexuals were not knowingly enrolled in the Canadian armed forces.

In 1989, Michelle Douglas was discharged from her position in the military because she was, “not advantageously employable due to homosexuality.” She challenged her dismissal on the grounds that it was in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This landmark challenge resulted in the Canadian military abandoning its discriminatory policy. This was an important advancement in the rights of the LGTBQ community and since this decision many LGTBQ have been open about their sexuality, whilst being active and dedicated members of the Canadian armed forces.

Since this decision, further advances have been made in terms of equity in the Canadian armed forces. For example, since 2005, Canadian forces chaplains have been blessing uniformed same-sex marriages and since 2008, members of the military have openly participated in Gay Pride events.

The challenge launched by Michelle Douglas resulted in major changes for LGBTQ in the armed forces and the depth of its impact is long-lasting. Other countries, such as the United States, still operate on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with regards to LGBTQ in the military and thus, this event can be seen as a step in the right direction for upholding human rights in Canada.

Michelle Douglas, pictured above, launched the legal court case that would ultimately end the discriminatory policies adopted by the Canadian Armed Forces. She continues to be an outspoken activist for gay and lesbian rights in Canada. Portrait by Laura Spaldin. CLGA National Portrait Collection.

1994- Kids in the Hall goes on the air

January 26, 2010

I am including this Canadian television show among the top cultural developments in LBGT history for numerous reasons. The first is because Scott Thompson of Kids in the Hall was open about his homosexuality; the second, because Kids in the Hall became an extremely popular comedy sitcom in the 1980s and is still recognized as a classic Canadian comedy television show to this day. In an article entitled “Not Young Anymore but Still Misbehaving,” Rick Marin wrote that the “cult comedians” of Kids in the Hall have become “more popular than they ever were in their heyday […] and like ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus,’ they have obsessive fans who can recite entire sketches” (Marin 62). He also discusses their trademark for cross-dressing (62). CODCO—another Canadian comedy troupe that began in Newfoundland in 1987, members of which later formed This Hour Has 22 Minutes—might also merit inclusion alongside the members of Kids in the Hall as vital to the cultural climate of disseminating LBGT concerns and issues and dealing with homophobia. However, Kids in the Hall is particularly influential due to its frank discussions about homosexuality, of which the show never shied away from. 199

This clip shows Buddy Cole, from Kids in the Hall, discussing the nature of the Canadian TV industry. What is important about this clip, I find, is that Cole unites his gay identity with his identity as a fledgling Canadian comedian, trying to carve a space for himself in a largely American industry. We can see, in this clip, how directly Kids in the Hall dealt with LGBT political issues.