“It’s been one of the circles of hell – I’m just not sure which one,” says JP Hornick in describing the legal battles she faced since the police raid on the Pussy Palace in September 2000.
Hornick and co-accused Rachael Aitcheson will lead the Pride parade as this year’s marshals. Adding to the theme “Uncensored,” the honoured group will be the Glad Day Bookshop, which has faced years of battles with Canada Customs, and more recently with the Ontario Film Review Board.
“This has been a year and a half of mostly anger. Rachael and I are nearly Boy Scouts. We do everything by the book. I’ve never had interaction with police in my life, well, outside of one speeding ticket. This was a really bad intro to Toronto’s Police Service,” Hornick says of the liquor licence charges she faced because she and Aitcheson signed the Special Occasion Permit for that Pussy Palace event.
“It has had a large emotional impact on my life. I had to call my mother and say, ‘Oh, I might be charged.’ For the first six weeks we didn’t know what the charge would be, whether it might even be keeping an illegal bawdyhouse.”
In the end, happily, the liquor charges that were laid were withdrawn after a judge ruled the police investigation violated the women’s constitutional rights.
Hornick has a broad and lengthy history of activism including Lesbian Avengers, Take Back The Night, ACT-UP, Queer Nation, Dyke Action Machine, and pro-choice activism. Her experience with the Pussy Palace has renewed her activist side.
“The charges put a fire under my butt,” she says. “There was no question as to whether we would fight them.”
Hornick says the support they have received for their legal defence makes her feel “very honoured. I feel incredibly indebted to the various communities that have donated to the fundraising efforts.”
And now she’s leading the parade.
“I think it is going to be a lot of fun. I’m glad to be associated with the “Uncensored” theme. What happened to us is a form of censorship.”
Aitcheson is also looking forward to marshalling.
“The victory itself was no slouch,” says Aitcheson. “It was quite a relief and we were happy. However, this will be the real celebration. It’s totally amazing to be able to celebrate in this way. I’m looking forward to waving at everyone who has supported us.
“It’s been really hard. The stress level has been really high. When we finally got the decision we started to relax, and we’re still kind of coming out of that. It’s over – well mostly over. There is still fundraising.”
Aitcheson is particularly grateful for the broad-ranging support she and Hornick have received.
“There have been so many fundraisers by so many different parts of the community. I’m just floored by that. It’s jaw-dropping and it shows how strong we can be as a community. That there was a bathhouse, that there is a bathhouse, that we can create that space for us.”
Community support and court battles are also common to this year’s honoured group, Glad Day Bookshop.
Glad Day is now in court for the sixth time, a circumstance that threatens its very existence because of the costs of the court challenge. Most recently it lost a court challenge against the Ontario Film Review Board; the store is appealling.
“It’s one thing for one to read about all of these battles and hear about people having to fight for our rights of freedom of expression – to be heard, to be published,” says store manager Toshiya Kuwabara. “When you are there and are forced into a position where you have to defend those rights and you are doing it at the cost of the survival of an institution everything changes. You are no longer just a lesbian and gay bookstore, you are an activist as well.”
So to be honoured in the parade gives a face to that activist side of bookselling.
“We are proud to have been chosen and to be recognized for what we have tried to do for the community. It will also make the community more aware of the battles that Glad Day Bookshop and others like Little Sister’s [book store in Vancouver] have had to face over the years.”
Glad Day Bookshop opened in 1970 and is the second longest surviving lesbian and gay book store in the world. It was founded, Kuwabara says, “to provide an outlet for all the voices where gays and lesbians could be heard and could be read and to create a safe environment and a queer positive space.
“That is part of the whole difference between coming to Glad Day Bookshop and some other bookstore. All the pressures that society places on you to invalidate you, to say you are different, that there is something wrong with you, it all gets thrown out the window because all of a sudden you are surrounded by this history of lesbian and gay publishing. It’s a different world when you walk into a bookstore and there are 10,000 titles staring you in the face.”
“Censorship isn’t just a rhetorical argument. It directly affects us.”