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Duncan McLaren: Found in a common bawdyhouse

Two men recount their arrests and trials

Police issued a notice to appear to McLaren, telling him he would be charged as "found-in a common bawdyhouse contrary to the criminal code." Credit: Courtesy of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives

This is a part of Xtra‘s special coverage – videos, audio clips, photos and printed stories – looking back on the 1981 bathhouse raids and riots. Find the main page here:

I was in Room 104 at The Barracks. I was chatting to a neighbour of mine — we were actually sharing a joint. Suddenly, there was this absolute avalanche of noise. I realized that what I was hearing was the thundering of boots going upstairs and everywhere. Within seconds, the door to my room was open. The cop said, “You’re under arrest as a found-in a common bawdyhouse. I was stunned. It was completely unexpected.

We were all rounded up and taken into the shower room. I was asked to bend over for a rectal search. Presumably they were looking for drugs. I hesitated; I was in shock. The one cop said, “Don’t tell us you haven’t done that before.”

Then we were photographed. We were forced to stand facing the wall, hands over our heads. We couldn’t move. I had “104” put on my left hand with black marker to identify which room I’d been in. It was kind of like tattooing a prison inmate. It was unbelievable.
While we were in the shower room, we were lined up against the wall, and I heard one of the cops say to one of his buddies, “It’s too bad these pipes aren’t hooked up to gas.” That’s exactly what he said. The cop he said that to didn’t respond; he looked embarrassed.

I was emotionally devastated; I was trying to piece my life together. I’m a private person and I was simply not prepared for the event. I was thrilled when I read about the protest, but I wasn’t in good enough emotional shape to actually go out onto the streets myself. Probably now I would be, but I’ve learned a few things.

The raids and riots had a huge impact on the gay movement. I can only speak in terms of Toronto because that’s where I live. What impressed me was how organized everybody was: The Right to Privacy Committee, the lawyers and, of course, Rick Bébout. And of course, thank God we had The Body Politic when we had all these things going on, too.