This year marks the 35th anniversary of Operation Soap. Often referred to as the Toronto bathhouse raids, Operation Soap was a raid on several gay bathhouses in 1981 by Toronto police that led to the arrest of over 300 men. The event is remembered as a pivotal moment in Toronto’s gay community, when people finally stood up for their rights. It sparked a generation of LGBT activism in the city — arguably, Operation Soap was our Stonewall.
A lot has changed since 1981. While queer Torontonians live in a much more accepting landscape today, we need to remember that many LGBT people around the world aren’t as fortunate. Ironically, a lot of the freedoms we enjoy today are in thanks to Operation Soap. So the question is: Does Toronto’s new generation of queers know anything about this important moment in our history?
Some people knew exactly what we were talking about — all hope isn’t lost!
Others took some prodding, but they had some general knowledge of the events . . . mainly that they were bullshit.
As a side note, it turns out you can actually find some sassy history buffs out there.
But the majority who answered had no idea what the bathhouse raids were.
Like, really no idea . . .
For an event that was one of the most significant turning points in Canada’s LGBT history, it’s surprising how few guys know much about it.
As part of Buddies In Bad Times Theatre’s Queer Pride programming, RAID: Operation Soap is an unconventional love story about two the men that experienced the infamous raids. Written and directed by Raymond Helkio with David Bateman, music by Stewart Borden, and starring Keith Cole and Johnny Salib, the play is based around a Bette Midler–inspired character who allows us to reconnect to a significant historical event in a way that is as entertaining as it is heart-breaking.
If gay men had not stood up to police and state power 35 years ago during Operation Soap, LGBT people throughout Canada would not enjoy the rights and freedoms they are afforded today, including the sometimes taken-for-granted ability to chat with guys on apps without fear of reprisal. So, next time you open your dating app, remember that while we may have won the battle, we still haven’t won the war.