If you were a homo-Canadian in 1964 you probably would have snapped up a copy of Jane Rule’s Desert of the Heart, the first literary novel featuring lesbians.
You might have been a member of Vancouver’s first homophile group, The Association for Social Knowledge (ASK). It would have been an exciting time to be gay. And a dangerous time.
You would probably have been closeted to your friends and co-workers. Closeted to your doctor, dentist and accountant. You’d pretend to be straight to your butcher, corner grocer, the guy who pumps your gas, your vet, letter carrier, pharmacist and milkman. You’d lie about your life to your sister, brother, mother, father, aunts, uncles and cousins. You’d not be out to your neighbours. You’d be lying to your landlord and boss.
In 1964 you could be fired from your job, kicked out of your home and disowned from your family for being gay.
Gay sex was an offense in the Criminal Code. Not only could you toss yourself into jobless, homeless exile for coming out; you could land yourself in jail.
The shit really hit the fan in 1967 when Everett George Klippert was sentenced to life in prison as a dangerous sexual offender because he admitted to having sex with men and doubted he’d ever change.
Klippert’s sentence set a terrible precedent that sent shockwaves across the country. The decision meant that any gay man or lesbian could go to prison for life just for being queer. Closet doors across the nation slammed shut simultaneously. The racket was deafening.
Klippert’s MP, federal Liberal Bud Orange, went to bat for him and soon the minister of justice, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was alerted to the case and changed the course of homo history.
Trudeau drafted the bill that would become C-150 and introduced it in the legislature. The omnibus bill proposed 120 amendments to the Criminal Code, including decriminalizing gay sex, abortion and contraception.
Bombarded by media questions, Trudeau uttered his famous quote, “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation,” adding, “what’s done in private between adults doesn’t concern the Criminal Code.”
There were some problems with the bill — the age of consent for anal sex was 21, while for vaginal sex it was 16. To be granted an abortion, a woman had to prove that her health was at stake.
Despite fierce opposition to the bill, NDP leader Tommy Douglas supported it. “If ever we needed in this country to adopt a new attitude towards homosexuality, this is the time,” he said.
On May 14, 1969, the House of Commons passed Bill C-150; it was an important step in the gay community’s emergence in Canada. The bill wasn’t quite right, but for gays and lesbians in the 1960s it was a huge victory.
Gay men and lesbians could actually start contemplating the notion of having a viable community, of gathering together legally, of coming out (one day) to family and friends.
They could start imagining a world in which they were equal.
Throughout the 1980s, ’90s and into the 21st century, queers have known how important it’s been to identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or queer, to call oneself a dyke, a fag, a homo, an MTF, or FTM. Earlier queers fought long and hard for the right. Some went to jail for it, others died.
And yet today there are still people in the closet. There are actors who fear they’ll not get the good parts, singers who fear they’ll not succeed, politicians who fear they’ll not win the vote.
There are queer youth who reject words like homo, gay, lesbian, queer.
It’s important for us to remember how only 40 years ago the world was radically different.
It’s important for celebrities (I’m dying to name a few who are closeted, but can’t) to be brave and come out. To be role models, to show the world we are everywhere (even in Hollywood).
Since the end of World War II, the Jewish community has sworn to never forget the Holocaust, because forgetting allows history to repeat itself.
In the 1930s Berlin had a thriving gay community. Gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transfolks in 1930s Germany would have laughed if you’d told them their clubs were about to be shut down, they were about to be rounded up, thrown in concentration camps and murdered.
Denmark decriminalized homosexuality in 1930. Poland did so in 1932, followed by Uruguay in 1934, Iceland in 1940, Switzerland in 1942, Sweden in 1944, Greece in 1951 and Thailand in 1956.
In 1961, Czechoslovakia and Hungary decriminalized sodomy, as did Israel in 1963.
England and Wales implemented the Wolfenden Report and passed the Sexual Offences Act in 1967, which decriminalized male homosexual behavior. Chad decriminalized homosexuality the same year.
It took Canada until 1969.
And we’ve only had the right to marry since 2005.
To protect our freedom and honour our forbearers, the queer community must never forget Pierre Elliott Trudeau and 1969.