The Royal Canadian Mint announced last December that it would be releasing a commemorative loonie to mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalization of gay sex in Canada. (Prior to 1969, “acts of sodomy” between consenting adults was illegal.)
Perhaps recognizing the challenge of memorializing legal gay sodomy on a coin, the Mint opted to celebrate this milestone with a more coy “stylized rendering of two overlapping human faces . . . the two faces [will form] one whole face in front view composed of two eyes with eyebrows, a nose, a mouth and two ears with a small hoop earring on the left ear.” If you didn’t know the real history, you wouldn’t be wrong to believe that 1969 marked a watershed moment for tasteful gay jewelry design (although the piercing would be in the stereotypically wrong ear).
And while the coin won’t be released until next week, pretty much everyone is already mad about it. [Editor’s note: Here’s the coin, since released in Ottawa.]
Last week, anti-gay protesters showed up at the Mint in Ottawa, calling on the government not to release the loonie, which they claim is an “aggressive push of the LGBT agenda on all Canadians.”
There’s also been a petition, which has amassed more than 50,000 signatures. “When Prime Minister [then a justice minister] Pierre Elliott Trudeau decriminalized homosexual acts in 1969, he famously said, ‘There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation,’” it reads. Releasing the coin, it continues, “is like the government is opening up the doors of certain bedrooms and inviting everyone in to watch.”
More surprising for the government, though, is the criticism from LGBTQ2 communities.
Several queer activists say the loonie unjustly elevates the relevance and impact of the Criminal Code changes in 1969, pointing out that the amendment is widely misunderstood as the total decriminalization of homosexuality. Gary Kinsman, who helped organize the Anti-69 collective this year in hopes of correcting these misinterpretations, told NewNowNext that the anniversary bears some significance, “but you can’t claim it was about things it wasn’t.”
The Criminal Code reforms only decriminalized private sexual acts between two consenting men over the age of 21. “Everything else remained criminalized,” Kinsman said, “and the number of people charged for consensual homosexual acts increased in the 1970s and early 1980s.” And LGBTQ2 people are criminalized to this day: think the continued blood ban against men who have sex with men and HIV criminalization, to name a few examples.
“I feel like they’re putting this myth onto a coin,” Tom Hooper, an LGBTQ2 historian and an organizer with Anti-69, told CBC. “They’re stamping this coin with 1969 and right next to it ‘equality’ and there was nothing in 1969 to do with equality.”
The feds, for their part, have nothing but praise for the coin. Upon the announcement, Minister of Finance Bill Morneau said he was “incredibly proud to have approved this new loonie.” Meanwhile, Randy Boissonnault, special advisor to the PM on LGBTQ2 issues, told NewNowNext that, even amid criticism of the 1969 anniversary, the loonie provides an opportunity to talk more about our history. Talk about passing the buck.