Valentine’s Day isn’t the only holiday celebrated today. It’s also Pink Triangle Day, which marks a major legal victory for the queer liberation movement and press freedom in Canada.
When queer people think of important dates in the gay calendar, Pride is probably the first one that jumps to mind, with Halloween not far behind. But very few of us remember, or have ever heard of, Pink Triangle Day, the first official gay and lesbian holiday in Canada.
Declared at the 1979 conference of the long-gone Canadian Lesbian and Gay Rights Coalition (CLGRC), held in Ottawa, Pink Triangle Day commemorates the first major legal victory for Canada’s queer rights movement.
Thirty-five years ago, The Body Politic’s Ed Jackson, Gerald Hannon and Ken Popert were acquitted of indecency charges stemming from the article “Men Loving Boys Loving Men,” published in the December 1977/January 1978 issue. The Body Politic is the predecessor to Xtra, which, along with dailyxtra.com, is published by Pink Triangle Press (PTP). Popert and Hannon still sit on PTP’s board of directors.
Hannon once wrote on Facebook, “I, along with friends and colleagues Ed Jackson and Ken Popert, were acquitted, after a 10-day sensational trial, on charges of immorality and indecency. The provocation? ‘Men Loving Boys Loving Men,’ an article I’d written for The Body Politic (then a source of outrage, it’s now on a course of study at U of T). We’d go on to be tried a second time on the same charges, and acquitted a second time. The day still stands as one of the earliest victories in the gay movement’s struggle against censorship. So, wish me Happy Pink Triangle Day — I am so over Valentine’s!”
“It was — and is — our gift, not just to our own communities, but to every other Canadian, demonstrating that we can fight back and win against the powerful forces that seek to limit what we say and what we see,” says Popert, who today serves as PTP’s executive director. “That this slap in the face of censorious authority was delivered on Valentine’s Day, a day devoted in recent times to love and more anciently to carnality, makes it all the sweeter.”
The video above features archival footage of former and current PTP staff and board members discussing the history and mission statement of the organization.
So why aren’t we celebrating?
“Valentine’s Day has got a real stranglehold on people’s minds,” Harold Desmarais told Xtra back in 2004. He was a delegate at the 1979 CLGRC conference and is a stalwart supporter of the holiday. Although the hope was to reclaim Valentine’s Day for all queerkind, it seems that in the end, hearts have trumped triangles.
“It was never meant to be a carbon copy of Valentine’s Day,” Desmarais said. “It was never tied to coupledom. It’s not just a note to the current hottie in your life.”
Instead, the day was intended to be a celebration of all sorts of relationships. “It’s an opportunity to tell all the people in our lives, our friends, who, especially in the lesbian and gay community, are so much more important because so often they have to take on the role of family as well. We don’t take the opportunity to say, ‘We love you. We appreciate you in my life. I need to tell you this.’ That’s the whole point of Pink Triangle Day.”
Desmarais had been mailing out custom-made Pink Triangle Day cards for more than 30 years but stopped in 2012 because of rising costs; he switched to electronic cards. “I used to colour in all the pink triangles,” he said. “But after my list reached over 200 it became a time-consuming thing.”
Not everyone on his list has clued in to the cards’ significance. “There are still those that say, ‘I really liked your Valentine’s card.’ And I say, ‘It isn’t a Valentine’s Day card; didn’t you read the fucking thing?’ It’s the ultimate in frustration. It’s like Sisyphus rolling the boulder to the top of the hill only to have someone send it to the bottom again.”
For a look at Desmarais’s previous Pink Triangle Day greetings, check out pinktriangleday.com.
Proclaiming our holiday
The resolution to declare Feb 14 as Pink Triangle Day was presented to CLGRC delegates by Halifax activist and author Robin Metcalfe on behalf of the Gay Alliance for Equality (later known as the Gay and Lesbian Association of Nova Scotia). At the conference’s final plenary, on July 1, 1979, delegates unanimously passed the following resolution:
“We recognize the importance of making known our history, so much of which has been lost or stolen, and particularly of commemorating the victories of lesbians and gay men. Given the historic importance of the acquittal of the officers of Pink Triangle Press as the first major legal victory for the Canadian gay movement, and given the fortuitous date of that victory, we propose a yearly celebration to mark the day.
“We realize that this date, February 14, has traditionally been celebrated as St Valentine’s Day and dedicated to the expression of heterosexual affection. We take this opportunity to challenge what Christopher Isherwood has called the ‘heterosexual dictatorship’ by affirming, for ourselves and for the world, the existence, the strength, and the beauty of gay love.
“A central symbol of St Valentine’s Day has been the figure of Cupid, derived from the ancient Greek Eros. We intend to make this day a celebration of the liberation of Eros, both as a reality in our personal lives since coming out, and as a common political goal to be achieved.
“We therefore proclaim February 14 as an annual Canadian gay holiday to be known as Pink Triangle Day.”
In 2013, Metcalfe delivered a 45-minute video presentation on the history of the pink triangle and the founding of Pink Triangle Day.
Read more on the history of the pink triangle.