3 min

Queer history in a Flickr

The cool thing about the digital age is that you don’t have to spend all your time in the archives or the library to find historical artifacts.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you.

If I had to choose between living in a city without a good restaurant or a good library, I would learn to cook. But, sometimes it’s awfully nice to find something on the Internet instead of rooting around in a box.

David Myers, whom regular readers will remember from two columns ago, has posted several items of historical —or at least documentary —value on Flickr, and so I will devote this column to one of them: Issue one, Volume one of The Phoenix, the newsletter of Vancouver’s Gay Liberation Front (GLF).

Newsletters occupy the lower rungs of the journalistic food chain. Nonetheless, in their artless way they tell the reader more about contemporary mores and interests, sensibilities and concerns than many better-written publications.

In fact, they’re the hard copy equivalent of a fly in amber. And The Phoenix —all six pages of it —provides a telling glimpse into a movement (GLF) and its time (1971).

The unsigned introduction is hopeful if didactic in tone as it informs the reader that The Phoenix will provide a voice for the gay community “to express its external struggle within the larger society which denies or ignores it.”

We are then told that this voice may speak poetry, prose or something in between and that “male” or “female” voices —stereotypical distinctions, we are assured —will be replaced by a voice of liberation. 

Like all good newsletters, it ends with a request for readers’ stories c/o 509 Carrall Street, Vancouver, the GLF’s home.

Page one also features the shortest item: “Mike Noble is beyond hope.” Gosh, who was Mike Noble, and what did he ever do —and to whom —to deserve this?

Page two begins with the GLF’s equivalent of the ladies’ page (“News from gay sisters”) and in some ways is by far the most interesting item in the newsletter. There’s a simplicity, almost naiveté, in the way the sisters begin: “A group of gay women have decided to get together for the purpose of looking at our future as women and as gays. We are meeting to pool our ideas and feelings about the kinds of things we would like to do together.”

After discussing the issue of their relationship to and participation in GLF, a collaboration so fraught in some instances that it encouraged the rise of lesbian separatism, the authors then move on to more mundane concerns.

Here my community organizer heart just melts: “A gay women’s coffeehouse has been open every Saturday evening for the past three years at 509 Carrall. And although there have been several good turnouts, we still feel that a large percentage of Vancouver’s gay women have not taken advantage of the coffeehouse.”

Oh! for the days when a community was so small that organizers could actually believe that it was possible to get everyone in the same place at the same time on a regular basis. Being in the life was just like belonging to a club.

Page two also features what I most dread reading —poetry.

Poetry makes me cringe; and this poem, with aspirations to transcendence (“I see a vast array of energy flow/a cosmos of movement,” etc, etc), was more than I could bear.

So, it was with a sense of intense relief that I moved on to the next item, a story taken from Time magazine about University of Minnesota student Jack Baker and his lover Jason McConnell, both 29, and their attempts to legalize their relationship through marriage.

While pursuing this goal, McConnell adopted Baker. This, says Time, could provide a legal bond for communes and group marriages. A disclaimer by The Phoenix follows, stating that Jack and Jason do not represent “liberated” behaviour but rather an example of what happens to people when they attempt to integrate.

Present day readers may be interested to know that partner adoption apparently remains a viable strategy for some same-sex couples, the recently deceased American composer Gian Carlo Menotti and his “son,” figure skater Francis “Chip” Phelan being one such example.

By now we’re on page three and for the first time, there’s a byline: Glenda Hotspend.

Right. Hotspend’s contribution is an overwritten but perceptive analysis of the sexual sub (and not so sub) text of modern advertising —all corrupt, of course. Witness the following description of a car ad: “Why a man and a woman should be rushing along a mountain highway in some piece of roaring death, smiling away at each other as they glibly zoom around obviously dangerous corners is the kind of seduction that this immoral and greedy society enjoys.”

Glenda makes it to page five before finally giving way to community listings (Gay Liberation Halloween Costume Ball; gay phone line; Wednesday rap session, etc).

Interestingly enough, here and elsewhere in the newsletter, the Georgia Straight appears to be the preferred channel of communication (“check out the Georgia Straight and posters.”). We’re still years away from queer publications like Xtra West or its predecessor, Angles.

Page six, the last, features —oh help, help, help —more poetry. Only this time, it’s a lament whose opening line reads: “Oh ardent youth upon the hill.”

The Phoenix closes, as it opened, with a visual flourish —a hand drawn illustration of what appears to be the Cheshire cat proclaiming “WERE [sic] ALL MAD YOU KNOW.”