2 min

False Victory

The new fight for privacy

Two decades ago mass revulsion and anger gave birth to a force that kept police interference at bay. But it’s been 10 years since the Right To Privacy Committee, claiming victory, dissolved itself.

“We thought that our work was over,” says Tim McCaskell, who chaired the public action branch of the RTPC for a couple of years.

Brought into being after the Barracks was raided on Dec 9, 1978, the RTPC slowly began to find its feet. But many did not see the need.

“The Barracks thing was largely seen as a side show – a bizarre incident. No one really understood what the significance was,” recalls McCaskell, adding that the establishment was “much raunchier than others,” so few saw the need to get seriously involved.

But it turned out that 1978 was a dry run.

It was when the cops tore through bathhouses in February of ’81, arresting some 300 gay men, that the RTPC’s membership ballooned.

“In the face of police brutality, the community was able to flex its muscles in a way that it never thought it could,” says McCaskell. “We were able to capture and channel the energy.”

“People were incredibly angry – it was just amazing,” says Gary Kinsman, a long time gay rights activist and author of The Regulation Of Desire. He was a student at the time. “When people begin to move, they start making connections in incredible ways. The discussions that took place during the meetings were amazing.”

According to McCaskell, close to 1,500 concerned community members crammed themselves into the gymnasium of Jarvis Collegiate.

“Everyone wanted to do something and show support. The police certainly didn’t expect the queer community to come together like we did,” says Kinsman.

Until its disbanding in the late ’80s, the late George Smith (he died in ’94) skillfully chaired the meetings.

“He had a remarkable skill in bringing people together,” says Kinsman. “He was able to bridge the gap between theory and action. He was able to keep everyone together – from the left leaning to the rightwing business people.”

The RTPC stood by those arrested during the mass raids, encouraging the hundreds of defendants to plead not guilty of bawdy house charges, and fundraising for those in need.

In the end, 87 percent of the 304 charges were acquitted.

“The Right To Privacy Committee was amazingly successful in winning in court and building alliances,” says Kinsman.

Both Kinsman and McCaskell are concerned that history might be repeating itself in the recent Bijou raids.

“I personally haven’t gone to places like the Bijou, but it’s really

important that these places exist,” says Kinsman. “If they’re successful in closing it down, then none of us are secure. They’ll start targeting what they consider more ‘risqué’ bathhouses and ‘dirtier’ bars – please keep those adjectives in quotation marks!”

“Younger, spunkier people need to take up the torch,” says McCaskell.