What has kept Harold Averill volunteering at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA) for more than 28 years? “You never know what’s going to come through the door.”
Some of the more unexpected treasures are the objects rattling around in boxes of donated documents. Averill presents as examples a gaudy beaded purse, a pair of faux-alligator pumps and an artfully constructed papier-mâché bracelet, all handmade by the noted playwright John Hebert for his drag acts.
Averill says many drag queens have offered collections to the CLGA but, “if we can’t preserve them or they are too large they really should go to a textile museum.” But he notes that textile museums are often unsure of what to do with gay material. Averill especially regrets being unable to accept the magnificent headdresses of Harold Desmarais, aka Sister Atrociata von Tasteless of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The CLGA does however have a well-preserved copy of the Sisters’ songbook, The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Slurp, with its beautiful cover art depicting a man on his knees in David Balfour Park.
When a collection of invaluable documents arrived from the late Toronto chapter of Gay Alliance Toward Equality (GATE) ? “the principal gay activist group in the ’70s,” according to Averill ? the boxes contained an object Averill says he was most moved by: a mailbox-shaped piggy bank with a miniature poster affixed to it.
The story behind the toy goes like this: In 1977 GATE members David Foreman and Bob Schisler were postering for a community dance and a march against then-foe Anita Bryant. They affixed an advertisement to a Canada Post mailbox and were promptly arrested for “defacing the Queen’s property.”
The pair was sentenced to seven days in jail and a $300 fine by a judge who noted that, although there was no damage done to the mailbox, he was “making an example as the city streets are society’s living room and no one would want posters stuck to their dining room table.”
Averill disagrees with the explanation. “Homophobia is what it was,” he says. Upon their release Foreman and Schisler, in true queer commando fashion, raced down to the nearest postal office and purchased several promotional piggy banks in the shape of mailboxes. They painstakingly created miniature reproductions of the posters and glued them to the pint-sized postal replicas. They then gleefully handed out souvenirs of their adventure to GATE members and supportive friends. It is one of these that now resides in the CLGA’s collection.
Other objects at the archives include “huge bags of buttons yet to be catalogued,” an “endless” collection of condoms including the long-vanished Fairy Dust and Protect Your Dick brands and a Peter Yakimovitch’s mid-’70s tatting that arrived along with documents from the Gay Friends of Fredericton.