Toronto
5 min

Our shocking past

Queer youth offer four quickie histories

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Chrystal Donbrath-Zinga put things in context. Credit: Jan Becker

In two very short and hot months of summer, 11 queer youth and three out professional adults came together for the Summer ’99 project to create an environment based on respect and creativity for the purposes of celebrating the rich history of Toronto’s gay community.



By doing so we carved out of our abstract shape a proud voice for young people which resulted in some beautiful visual art and theatre.



Not only was queer history the focus, but our findings though our historical research informed every creative decision we made and ultimately helped us to put into context our own personal lifestyle choices. It enabled us to see the beauty of our past and the beast of burden that follows not far behind our every step still today.

– Chrystal Donbrath-Zinga



GLAD DAY



When writing about the Glad Day Bookshop, I must begin with Jearld Moldenhauer, the founder of Glad Day as well as an important figure in Toronto’s gay liberation movement.



In 1969, after moving to Toronto from the US, Moldenhauer founded the University Of Toronto Homophile Association, an organization dedicated to educating the community about homosexuality, combating discrimination and bringing about social and personal acceptance of homosexuality.



Moldenhauer was dissatisfied with the amount of queer literature available in mainstream bookstores. So he went to gay rallies and social gatherings, selling his personal stock of gay literature, as well as selling materials from his apartment through mail order.



In 1970 his efforts fostered the birth of the Glad Day Bookshop at 598 Yonge St, where it still exists today. A Boston location opened in 1979.



From its inception, Glad Day has faced a constant struggle with Canada Customs and obscenity laws regarding its imported items. Glad Day’s best known battle with Customs was over The Joy Of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein and Edmund White. The book was first seized by customs in 1987.



Following two appeals, Ontario District Court Judge Bruce Hawkins ruled that the book did not violate Canada’s obscenity laws.



However, Hawkins fail to rule on the constitutionality of custom seizures. Glad Day has repeatedly tried to used the courts to force the government to clarify how it defines obscenity, but the definition continues to be evasive.



Glad Day has managed to stay afloat financially with the help of personal investments, various fundraising events, PEN Canada and other Canadians against customs censorship.



During my research, I have been in awe of the selfless acts so many men and women performed for the gay liberation movement. Glad Day is no exception, and is an institution that despite repeated attack, has endured and remained dedicated to equal rights and freedom of expression.

– Richard MacDonagh



THE BODY POLITIC



It is virtually impossible to look back over the past 30 years of our history and overlook The Body Politic.



The Body Politic was a politically-motivated gay periodical run by a Toronto-based editorial collective that lasted 16 years, from 1971 to ’87.



I had the opportunity to leaf through a stack of The Body Politic back issues this summer at the home of friends of mine, and found that the paper just reeked of spirit. I can only imagine hundreds of people volunteering their time, work, art and serious thinking power just to feed their strong desire for change.



During The Body Politic’s life only 15 people were ever paid on a regular basis for their work, eight being the most at one time.



The Body Politic acted as a venue for sharing opinions, information and the retellings of recent news events by first hand witnesses. In doing so, The Body Politic acted as a support for everyone gay.



Contributors used the magazine as a means to openly discuss topics – like its “Men Loving Boys Loving Men” article about intergenerational sex – which otherwise would never have been discussed. These were topics that were silenced and repressed under the heterosexual norm’s shoe.



For its outspokenness, The Body Politic was involved in several instances where it found itself battling in favour of the basic right to free speech and freedom of the press. Its office was raided in 1977 and 1982. The publication spent years in court over the controversial articles, “Men Loving Boys” and “Lust With A Very Proper Stranger,” about fisting, that had triggered the raids.



Reader response to the magazine’s controversial positions was varied and conflicted. But at the root of what seemed to be created to shock, was the basic principle that we do have a say in what we do with our bodies and who we desire.

– Carolyn Czegel



(Pink Triangle Press, which published The Body Politic, now publishes Xtra.)





WE DEMAND MARCH



My younger sister made a decision to come out in high school. I couldn’t believe that she’d taken the chance of being out at school because it was something that I never could’ve done. I was always worried that one day, somebody was going to say or do something to her. I mean, just look at history. Remember what they did to Oscar Wilde?



Buggery was punishable by death in 1859. Gross indecency, which referred to all sexual acts between men, was entered into law in 1892. In 1969, Bill C-150 decriminalized gay sex in private between two consenting men and, looking back, I once thought it marked the end of the struggle for gay rights. It wasn’t until this summer that I realized that it was only the beginning.



This year marked the 30th anniversary of the passing of this bill which, at the time, signalled an end to oppression. Two years after the bill was passed, though, our community realized that although this law now longer made sexual acts between homosexuals illegal, it had not ended discrimination.



It was this realization which led to the We Demand march on Parliament Hill in 1971. Queers took 10 demands to Ottawa in hope of creating a movement towards equal rights for the gay, lesbian and bisexual community. Now, 28 years later, we live in a society which promotes a project that allowed young gay and lesbian artists the opportunity to discover this history and communicate it through art and theatre.



My little sister pursued this movement when she chose to come out at school. I realize now that these risks have to be taken in order to continue to create a world where equality exists.

– Jefferson Guzman



BRUNSWICK FOUR



Before the Summer ’99 project, “history” made me think of a past full of events that couldn’t happen now, to me or to anyone I knew.



Then I found myself in the Canadian Lesbian And Gay Archives researching a mysterious event called the Brunswick Four Tavern Bust.



Okay, I thought, I’ll get the information on this so we can get down to the interesting stuff like doing theatre. Then I read the story.



The Brunswick Four, as they came to be called, were four dykes who went to the Brunswick House (a straight, working-class beer hall that’s still on Bloor St) in the 1970s, to have a good time. The women were openly gay, proud, and rowdy. They say “I Enjoy Being A Dyke.” As a result, the owner asked them to leave. They refused and were arrested, harassed by the police, and, due to media coverage, outed.



I had been given some phone numbers for the women involved and was encouraged to interview them. Now this is where it gets interesting. I met three of the four women, who are still acquaintances.



What impressed me was how supportive they were of my contacting them and how interested they were in me as a person. They shared details of the event, like people spitting beer at them – and sharing beer with them. One woman talked about how the extensive media coverage made her afraid of losing her job, just for being so out at a bar.



In fact, I could see myself behaving in the same way, with the same consequences. I began to realize that history, this history, was my history, that what occurred was real, not fictional, and that maybe I had a chance to make history.

– Fania Schwabel