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:
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.
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.
On February 5, 1981, the Toronto police initiated “Operation Soap” – the code name for brutal police raids on several of Toronto’s gay bathhouses. In the largest mass arrest since the October Crisis, 286 men were arrested and charged as found-ins, and twenty men are charged as keepers of bawdy houses. In subsequent trials, all but one of the “found-ins” were acquitted (CBC Archives).
A documentary on the bathhouse raids and the ensuing protests quotes Duncan McLaren, one of the men who was charged as a found-in at the Barracks bathhouse. McLaren describes his victimization by the police:
“We ended up in the shower room and we were all told to strip… But I think one of the most chilling things was… one of the cops said, looking at all the showers and the pipes going into the shower room; he said ‘gee, it’s too bad we can’t hook this up to gas’.” (Stand Together)
The following evening, over 3000 members and supporters of Toronto’s gay community united to demonstrate against these raids. A second protest was held on Feb. 20 at Queen’s Park, with over 4000 people gathering to call for increased rights and protection for gays and lesbians in Canada. In the aftermath of the raids, the Toronto City Council commissioned an investigation into community relations between the police and the gay community. The report recommended a permanent dialogue committee between the two groups (CBC Archives).
This headline from the Toronto Star, calling the protest a “rampage” or “riot” shows the media’s bias against the protesters.
An audio clip from the CBC Archives, originally broadcast on Feb. 15, 1981, features interviews with leaders of the gay community. One of the speakers says that this is “not just a gay issue, but a human rights issue.”
When The Body Politic newspaper was founded in Toronto, inspired by the success of the very first gay march on Parliament Hill some months earlier, the paper called for gay liberation. It had close ties to the Glad Day Bookshop—the only bookshop in Toronto for many years that specialized in LGBT literature (Warner 116). It was quickly noticed outside the LBGT community, and Barbara Frum of CBC talkshow As It Happens inquired about it in a CBC interview—proof of its growing clout (CBC Archives).
Contributors to The Body Politic tried as best they could to avoid the scandalous image that gay and lesbian magazines often incurred, attempting to fund their enterprise without having to turn to advertising (CBC Archives). The Body Politic was charged with publishing obscene material twice, and was raided once in 1977 after its publication of an article entitled “Men Loving Boys Loving Men” (Nardi and Schneider 331).
Members involved in The Body Politic eventually created the Gay and Lesbian Archives in 1973, which remains one of the hubs of LGBT history in Canada. Members like Ron Dayman set out historical material from TBP’s business papers, removing it to his house and working in his basement on the collection; TBP‘s records, along with material it saves from gay groups elsewhere, later formed the core of the Archives (LBGT Archives). As such, no one can doubt the importance of The Body Politic as amagazine of immense cultural influence and importance to the LGBT movement.
A clip about Body Politic from February 11, 1972. Barbara Frum’s As It Happens features an interview with one of Body Politic’s founding members in order to inform Canadians about the group. She inquires about topics such as 1) whether a person must be homosexual to contribute to the newspaper and 2) what the goals of the Body Politic are. She is also reprimanded by her interviewee Hugh Brewster for her program “Nothing to Hide,” which Brewster contends portrayed homosexuals in a bad light. Brewster also speaks to the fact that The Body Politic is trying, as best it can, to avoid including personals in its publications—the newspaper is attempting to rally against the hyper-sexualized portrayal of the homosexual lifestyle.
During the same summer that Stonewall Riots galvanize the gay community in New York, Canada passes Bill C-150 – the Criminal Law Amendment Act, decriminalizing homosexual acts for consenting Canadians over the age of 21 . This is part of the Trudeau government’s movement toward more socially liberal policies. Prime Minister Trudeau famously says:
“There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation. I think that what’s done in private between adults doesn’t concern the Criminal Code.”
The nascent Gay Liberation movement points out that decriminalization does not necessarily mean an end to discrimination, and urges the government to end all discriminatory policies and to grant civil rights to homosexuals. Meanwhile, the movement encourages gays to come out of the closet and work toward liberating themselves sexually and socially in addition to politically and legally.
This video, from Toronto’s gay weekly XTRA, features gay Canadian MP’s – including Libby Davies, Scott Brison, Real Menard, and others discussing the impact of Bill C-150 on the 40th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality. Rob Oliphant calls it “the first major step is securing gays’ and lesbians’ full rights in Canada.” Mario Silva extends this event’s significance for Canadians beyond the LGBT community, saying, “It opened up possibilities for, I think, all people who believe in human rights.”
The film Winter Kept Us Warm is a cultural milestone for the LGBT movement, because it is among the most explicit films of its time dealing with LGBT issues. A story about the ambiguously homosexual friendship of two young University of Toronto students, the amateur film was greeted with worldwide praise during a time when the Canadian film industry had barely any presence internationally (Dixon 143). The film dealt with homosexuality both ambiguously and implicitly; as can be seen in the below clip, the film contains segments wherein the friendship between the two main characters quite clearly progresses beyond an innocent friendship.
As the film Winter Kept Us Warm reached critical acclaim, the London Times called it “easily the most appealing of all the North American entries at Cannes” (143). Importantly, the film debuted before the Trudeau’s famous Omnibus Bill in 1969, when homosexual activity was still legally considered a crime. It is therefore an example of what Thomas Waugh claims was “definitely something sexual [happening] in Western industrialized societies in the three or four decades following the Second World War” (49). Winter Kept Us Warm fits snugly within this period of revolutionary activity—still in the margins of society and not yet legally recognized, but also beginning to creep into cultural movements—marking a shift in attitude about the LGBT lifestyle in Canada.
A clip from Winter Kept Us Warm: after Peter leaves, seemingly jealous of his friend’s relationship, Doug plays Peter a song for him.