Toronto
2 min

Step into our wayback machine

You read here the online version of what appears in the 642nd issue of Xtra. Way back in 1984, the year the first issue of Xtra hit the streets, Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon” was a big hit and people wondered — on account of his getup and makeup — if Boy George was just a new-wave eccentric or whether he might not be a little bit queer.

South of the border it was the 15th anniversary of the Stonewall protests in New York. Dan White, the man who shot San Francisco gay activist Harvey Milk and mayor George Mascone, was released after fewer than five years in prison.

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had identified about 5,000 AIDS cases by then. In April of that year the CDC announced that it had identified a virus that was the probable cause of AIDS and was developing a blood test for it. That raised the spectre of involuntary quarantines for those who tested positive (read about the recent criminalization of HIV). One hundred thousand people marched on the 1984 US Democratic National Convention in San Francisco in response to the increasingly horrifying AIDS crisis (read about last month’s Proposition 8 protests in the US). In October 1984 the San Francisco Department of Public Health issued an order calling for the closure of the all the tubs and sex clubs in that city.

Closer to home a handful of AIDS cases were on record in Toronto with fewer than 200 across the country. Of course there were scores of people who were HIV positive but had no way of knowing it.

Pierre Trudeau stepped down as the 15th Prime Minister of Canada (read more about him and the decriminalization of gay sex). In the rush to fill the power vacuum Brian Mulroney (17), John Turner (16) and Ed Broadbent (also-ran) took to the stumps in an election fought largely about abortion, daycare, equal pay for women, deficit cutting and world peace.

Bill Graham, who was years away from not quite coming out, ran in that election for the Liberals in what was then the Rosedale riding (see our 2007 video interview with Graham). Residents near Allan Gardens were organizing to drive sex workers from their neighbourhood because, in the words of one resident, “prostitutes cannot be effectively prevented from disturbing the peace and quiet and inflicting their lifestyle, with its attendant violence, on our area.” (See Fragile Peace Rattled on the Stroll for the current related kerfuffle.)

George Hislop, who died in 2005 before he got to spend his Canada Pension money, gave up his attempts to win a Toronto city council seat, making way for junior alderman Jack Layton. The February 1984 issue of Torso (see A Page Turns for Paper Porn) hit the stands in Toronto with eight and a half blank pages after Canadian Customs and Excise inspectors put the kibosh on the sexy pictures that were supposed to go there. It was part of an ongoing struggle by the publishers of Torso against censorship (read about Butt Magazine on Xtra.ca and in our Jan 29, 2009 issue).

Glad Day Bookshop was in court defending itself against censors too (read about Amazon.com in last month’s Queer Authors Speak Out About ‘AmazonFail’) and the Toronto Women’s bookstore raised $30,000 in donations to rebuild after it was destroyed by a fire-bomb directed at the Morgentaler abortion clinic.

Toronto’s hottest bars were Bud’s, Boots, The Toolbox, Chaps, The Barn, Buddy’s, Cornelius, Katrina’s, Oz, Parkside Tavern, The Quest, St Charles Tavern, The Surfboard Tavern, Together, Avalon and Club Manatee (check out our Out in the City Listings).

And Xtra was billed as the place to read about the latest battles of the bars, the newest fads, the people to watch, the places to go and the things to do.

I don’t know whether to be more amazed by how much has changed or by how much has stayed the same.