As a people under fire for the last, oh, several thousand years or so, we queers have probably spent more time dodging angry crowds, lynchings and bullets than consolidating our history in a thorough and sustained manner. Sure, we snagged a couple of prime mentions in the Bible (both Leviticus and Paul seemed particularly fascinated by us), but it can be tricky to assemble the fragmented pieces of our history in a linear way.
For the last 40 years, the folks at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives have been striving to do just that. Its mission since 1973 has been to acquire, preserve, organize and give public access to historic Canadian queer materials. This includes a research library, international subject files and kajoodles of pictures, film, art and text that serve to fill in the gaps created by legal, social and political climates.
As part of its anniversary celebration, the CLGA will be celebrating the induction of two Ontario activists to its Portrait Gallery collection, an honour shared by former inductees like kd lang and George Hislop.
Richard Hudler and Rupert Raj have been working on the frontlines of queer activism for many years and in social climes that challenged our community’s quest for equality.
Raj is a well-known therapist, educator and writer whose work on behalf of the transgender community has been both fearless and extremely successful. He has established foundations, authored academic reviews and engaged in the sort of one-to-one support work that is indispensable for trans folk at their most vulnerable. Still in private practice, he moonlights at the Sherbourne Health Centre as an LGBT mental health counsellor, as well as heading up a peer-support group for trans men at the 519 Community Centre.
Hudler’s contributions to our community have sprung from his career as a social worker, but his activism with HALO (Homophile Association Of London Ontario) has often placed him on the hot seat with cops, the courts and several politicians (former London mayor Dianne Haskett is surely still smarting from Hudler’s complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission when she refused to issue a gay-pride proclamation back in 1995).
“You have to do these things or you lose what you’ve already accomplished,” Hudler says. “But in the end, it’s not legislation that solves the problems; it’s changing people’s minds that is an ongoing battle.”
Hudler is particularly proud of the work done to have schools include homosexuality in their sex education programs. While his and HALO’s work to create gay-straight alliances in schools was slowed during the 1990s by the Harris government, there is great satisfaction in seeing Ontario legislate the right for such groups to exist.
“There were always protests and a lot of disappointment,” Hudler says. “But then things like that happen and you see the support we’ve all gained and realize how far we’ve come.”
For CLGA board member William Craddock, the portrait collection (rendered in a variety of mediums decided upon by the inductees) represents not only an opportunity to honour our community heroes, but also the chance to explore the events and activities leading up to this honour.
“The collection speaks to the archives in such a broad sense,” Craddock says. “You can pick someone out from the portraits and then find the wealth of archived materials surrounding their lives and their contributions. Both Rupert and Richard represent a really interesting coverage of the history of our community across Ontario. We’re privileged to have them here.”