2 min

Here, queer & stubborn

Dogged group of activists got us started on the road to gay rights

GET IT OUT! Cynthia Petersen says CLGRO needs to shout its name from the rooftops. Credit: Jan Becker

If one of Canada’s oldest gay provincial groups is going to get past its 25th anniversary, it’s going to need more cash, more people and more exposure.

The Coalition For Lesbian And Gay Rights in Ontario (CLGRO), a grassroots advocacy group, has done everything from protesting bathhouse raids to lobbying for same-sex relationship recognition. But it’s having some problems getting attention.

“CLGRO certainly qualifies as a reputable organization and yet it doesn’t have a very high profile,” says Cynthia Petersen, a Toronto lawyer involved with CLGRO for more than 10 years. “It’s always having to remind people of its credentials and more people ought to just know that already.”

CLGRO celebrated its 25th anniversary on Jan 19. It was founded by community groups (some themselves defunct, like the Gay Alliance Toward Equality) as a way of coordinating advocacy on province-wide.

CLGRO has worked on the big issues of the day, including:

• Leading an 11-year campaign to have sexual orientation added to the Ontario Human Rights Code, ending with success in 1986

• Organizing demonstrations to protest the 1981 police raids on gay bathhouses in Toronto (more than 300 men were arrested and much property was destroyed)

• Launching a 10-year campaign to secure legal recognition of same-sex relationships, ending with the adoption of Bill 5 last October that added the category “same-sex partner” to 67 provincial laws

CLGRO’s 1997 report, System Failure, addressed the need for education and training of health and social service staff to lesbian and gay issues. The four-year study got little notice.

“There’s been absolutely no response form government,” says CLGRO founding member Tom Warner. “Nothing in the way of policies, programs or announcements has come about from the report.”

Petersen attributes that to the organization’s need to get its name out: “If they could have orchestrated more media coverage, that would have necessitated a more serious response.”

But for small organizations like CLGRO that rely heavily on volunteers and donation, resources are limited. CLGRO has only one part-time paid staff person who maintains community relations and a Danforth office. It has a core volunteer base of about 20.

“[CLGRO] could be more effective if it were better funded,” says Petersen. “It’s difficult to criticize people who are doing what they can with what resources they have on a volunteer basis.”

The $20,000 annual budget relies almost entirely on donations and is supplemented with funding requests to government and community agencies.

Plans to celebrate this silver anniversary are on hold until funding proposals to the Toronto Arts Council, the Lesbian And Gay Community Appeal and other funding bodies are approved. Members hope to hold events throughout the year.

The future for CLGRO includes working with the same diligence as in the past and focussing on educational and health issues, says Warner.

“Sometimes we wonder how we’ve been able to survive… even though we are not able to do everything, the fact is that we’ve achieved a lot, we’re still here and we plan to be here for a while.”

Coalition For Lesbian And Gay Rights In Ontario.

310 Danforth Ave #C6,

Toronto M4K 1N6.

(416) 405-8253.