Longtime queer-rights activist Chris Bearchell died in hospital in Vancouver on Feb 18 at the age of 53. She’d been battling breast cancer for a decade.
An influential leader in Toronto’s early gay liberation movement, she cofounded the Lesbian Organization Of Toronto and Maggie’s, a drop-in centre for sex workers, and was a leader at the Coalition For Lesbian And Gay Rights In Ontario.
“She was an astute analyst of contemporary culture, and the best rabblerouser we ever had,” says Gerald Hannon, a former member of The Body Politic collective and now board member of Xtra’s publisher Pink Triangle Press.
“I can still see her at the corner of Yonge and Wellesley streets in Toronto the night of the huge demo after the bathhouse raids. She whipped the crowd into a frenzy and soon had them chanting, ‘No more shit!’ the phrase that became the community’s iconic vocal response to the police outrage.”
Born in Edmonton in 1954, Bearchell became an activist early on when she challenged her school’s dress code, which prohibited girls from wearing pants.
By 1975 Bearchell was living in Toronto, where she began writing for The Body Politic, Xtra’s predecessor. In 1978 she joined the paper’s governing collective and remained until it folded in 1987.
“She was a hard, committed worker on The Body Politic collective,” says Hannon.
“For many men in the early gay movement, she was the only lesbian on the planet. A bit of an exaggeration, of course, but her willingness to work and play with men for the greater good of both sexes was unusual at a time when lesbian separatism was a significant force.”
Bearchell moved to Lasqueti Island, BC in 1995. She is survived by her lover Irit Shimrat.
With files from Annie Smith.