On the Origins of

Chapter 1


To most at that
Toronto Gay Action meeting in September 1971, the long history of activism that had come before them was significant in only one way: They knew almost nothing about it.

Homo promo
(Way before The Beep)


Mattachine's One
Vol 1 #9 ("Are Homosexuals Reds?"):
"No boy or girl, approaching the maelstrom of deviation, need make that crossing alone, afraid, and in the dark ever again."

The Ladder

Long lived lesbian lit:
Vol 1 #8 (1957) of The Ladder, launched by San Francisco's Daughters of Bilitis, 1956; surviving to 1972.

Jim Egan

One-man gay movement:
Jim Egan, right, and Jack Nesbit, on his 1998 memoir (see below).

ASK newsletter

Canada's first sustained
gay publishing effort:

Newsletter of Vancouver's Association for Social Knowledge, 1964 - 68.


The very first:
If not quite so sustained.
First issue of Gay, later Gay International, published in Toronto (see also below).


First One, then Two:
Issue 1 of Toronto's Two,
published from 457 Church St (a gay address to this day), 1964 - 66.

Early homophile
organizing & publishing

The few words in the text, on more than a century of activism, depend on history unwritten before the '70s, when gay activists began reclaiming our past. Key among them and their works:

James Steakley: The Homosexual Emancipation Movement in Germany. Arno Press, 1975.

Jonathan Katz: Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. Crowell, 1976.

Jeffrey Weeks: Coming Out: Homosexual Politics in Britain, From the 19th Century to the Present. Quartet Books, 1977. Sexuality and its Discontents: Meaning, Myths and Modern Sexualities. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985.

John D'Emilio: Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940 - 1970. University of Chicago Press, 1983.

Alan V Miller: Our Own Voices: A Directory of Lesbian and Gay Periodicals, 1890s to 1990s. The definitive list, more than 7,200 titles worldwide, on the CLGA site.

These people all had connections with The Body Politic as major contributors, periodic writers, and occasional visitors (but for Alan, here all the time).

Jim Steakley, on the collective '73 - '74, later wrote often from the University of Wisconsin. His work on the German homophile movement first appeared in a 3 part series in TBP, Issues 9 - 11, 1973 - 74. His The Writings of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld: A Bibliography, was co- published by the Canadian Gay Archives and the Magnus Hirschfeld Gesellschaft, Berlin, in 1985.

Jonathan Katz, later Jonathan Ned Katz, a frequent visitor (he met his long time boyfriend David Gibson at TBP), wrote "Why Gay History?" in the Aug 1979 issue (accompanying another piece, "Stashing the Evidence," on the history to date of the Canadian Gay Archives). His encyclopedic works, essential sources for US gay history, continued with Gay / Lesbian Almanac: A New Documentary, 1983; The Invention of Heterosexuality, 1995; and Love Stories: Sex Between Men Before Homosexuality, 2001.

Jeffrey Weeks, with London's Gay Left collective and noted social construction theorist, wrote on Havelock Ellis in the Oct '80 issue, Peter Gay's The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud in Jun '84, and a collection on John Addington Symonds and Edward Carpenter, Oct '85.

John D'Emilio, at the University of North Carolina, premiered his work on the US homophile movement in a 3 part TBP series: "Dreams Deferred," Issues 48 - 50, Nov '79 - Feb '80. In 1988 he authored (with Estelle Freedman) Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America.

These people and many more attended two international gay / lesbian history conferences in Toronto. See 1982: May 31 - Dec and 1985: Jul - Dec in Promiscuous Affections.

Jim Egan

James Egan (compiled and edited by Don McLeod): Challenging the Conspiracy of Silence: My Life as a Canadian Gay Activist. Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives and Homewood Books, 1998.

Jim tells his own story from 1921 to early '60s Toronto. Don adds (as ever!) a detailed chronology, lists of Jim's publications, articles about him, his correspondence in the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, and 39 illustrations.

Jim Egan died March 9, 2000; Jack Nesbit less than four months later, on June 23.

Canada had another, nearly one man movement: Garrfield D Nichol (Gary Nichols) of Stittsville (near Ottawa), working in the early '60s as the Committee on Social Hygiene. For more, see Don McLeod's anthology.

Gay (& Gay International)

Don McLeod: A Brief History of Gay: Canada's First Gay Tabloid, 1964-1966. Homewood Books, 2003.

The "surprisingly complicated" story of a litte Canadian mag lasting just 15 issues, if achieving US circulation equal to that of America's then top nine lesbian / gay publications combined.

Abortion & birth control

Angus McLaren and Arlene Tigar McLaren: The Bedroom and the State: The Changing Practices and Politics of Contraception and Abortion in Canada, 1880 - 1997, (2nd ed, Oxford U Press, 1997).

The 1969 amendments that decriminalized certain homosexual acts also ended the ban (in place since 1892) on the sale or advertising of contraceptives. It also decriminalized abortion -- but only if performed in an accredited hospital, and only if that hospital's abortion committee agreed that continued pregnancy might endanger a woman's life or health. Access to safe abortions remained limited: not all hospitals set up committees; not all interpreted the law in the same way.

In 1973 Dr Henry Morgentaler said he'd done more than 5,000 abortions in his free standing Montreal clinic. A jury refused to convict. The Supreme Court of Canada overturned his acquittal in 1975. Morgentaler spent time in prison but later continued his battle, opening clinics in other cities. They have been attacked by "Right to Life" forces and defended by pro-choice activists ever since.

In 1988 the Supreme Court struck down the 1969 law. "Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanctions, to carry a fetus to term," it ruled, "is a profound interference with a woman's body, an infringement of security of the person," violating the Charter of Rights and thus unconstitutional. With that (and to date, legislators shy of the issue), Canada is the only Western country to have no reference to abortion in its criminal law.

The Klippert case, & the 1969 Criminal Code amendments

See Kinsman's The Regulation of Desire and McLeod's Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada for details.

Criminal law in Canada is federal law, applying across the country. But enforcement is provincial, so may vary. But there is much more variation in the US, where each state enacts its own criminal law. In 1969, homosexual acts were a crime in every US state except Illinois. They remained a crime in 20 states well into the 21st century.

In late June 2003 the Supreme Court declared the Texas sodomy law an unconstitutional violation of privacy rights, thus nullfying similar laws across the US.

From the 1950s (& even before)
to September 1971

The Body Politic was conceived in a basement (not the last it would know), born in an Annex apartment, named in a downtown Victorian flat (possibly; accounts vary), and raised for a time in a backyard shed. It had more than a dozen parents. Organizationally speaking, it could trace its family tree as far back as a great grandparent -- though that ancestor, still living, was just two years old.

The gay movement budded quickly in those days, the usual metaphor less gentle: not buds but "spin offs." The University of Toronto Homophile Association, born October 1969, had by December 1970 spun off CHAT, the Community Homophile Association of Toronto.

By June 1971 an "activist caucus" within CHAT had spun off as Toronto Gay Action (TGA). That group held public meetings on Sunday nights at 8:00, in the basement of a counterculture gathering spot, The Hall at 19 Huron Street, near Queen West. It was on one of those Sundays, in early September 1971 (the 5th possibly, or the 12th; no one remembers for sure), that Jearld Moldenhauer invited anyone interested in starting a gay paper to come to a meeting at his place.

It might have felt like a new idea. In fact, it was not.

The history of homosexual organizing, even of gay publishing, goes back many decades beyond that fateful meeting of 1971. To German writer Karl Heinrich Ulrichs in 1864; to John Addington Symonds and Edward Carpenter in late 19th century Britain; to Magnus Hirschfeld's Scientific Humanitarian Committee of 1897 and his Institute for Sexual Science, opened in Berlin in 1919; to the thriving subculture and "absolute tidal wave of homosexual journals" in Weimar Germany throughout the 1920s and early '30s.

The earliest known (if short lived) homosexual emancipation group in the United States, the Society for Human Rights, had been founded by Henry Gerber and six others in Chicago in 1924. It produced what was likely the first US homophile publication, Friendship and Freedom (probably inspired by Freundschaft und Freiheit, a German journal of the time) -- but it lasted just two issues, no copies ever found since.

The Mattachine Society had begun in November 1950, when five men -- most current or former members of the US Communist Party -- met at the home of Harry Hay in Los Angeles. They hoped to ensure that "No boy or girl, approaching the maelstrom of deviation, need make that crossing alone, afraid, and in the dark ever again."

Mattachine was taken over by less radical sorts, commies purged in the Red Scare of the early '50s. But born out of a Mattachine discussion group came the first long lasting US gay mag, One -- "neither a tract nor a pamphlet, but a real magazine," first appearing in January 1953. It survived for 16 years.

In 1955, four San Francisco lesbian couples created their own discussion group; it grew to become the Daughters of Bilitis. The next year, founders Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon launched The Ladder, the best known lesbian journal of its day. It would go on (in its last years independent of DOB, under the editorship of Barbara Grier) to the fall of 1972.

From early 1950, homosexual activism had also been visible in Canada -- if barely, and almost exclusively through the work of one man.

James Egan began writing letters to the media, "trash" tabloids and daily papers both, in 1949, The Globe and Mail publishing one as early as 1950. He kept at it until 1964, when he and his lover Jack Nesbit left for rural British Columbia. (But they would reappear: as "Egan and Nesbit," the Supreme Court case that, in 1995, finally deemed discrimination based on sexual orientation unconstitutional.)

The first gay group in Canada actually a group, Vancouver's Association for Social Knowledge (ASK), had been formed in April 1964, "to help society understand and accept variations from the sexual norm." ASK not only lobbied for legal reform but held public forums, ran social events -- and attracted members: men and women in nearly equal numbers, more than 150 of them by late 1967.

On New Year's Eve 1966 it opened Canada's first gay community centre, offering space for meetings, speakers, dances; a lending library, counselling and referral services, and production of the organization's newsletter. The mix would become familiar: by the mid '70s many gay groups across Canada would look a lot like ASK had in 1967.

But those similarities would be a matter of local evolution, not conscious imitation: by early 1969 ASK had disbanded. Few would recall its model.

The ASK Newsletter, launched in April 1964, was likely the first sustained gay publishing effort in Canada. It continued to February 1968, producing some 30 issues. But the very first (if we don't count Face and Physique, published in Lachine, Quebec from 1962) was Gay.

Produced by the Gay Publishing Company in Toronto, its first issue dated March 30, 1964, Gay continued only to mid 1965, the last four of its 15 issues titled Gay International.

A tabloid mix of fiction, photos, gossip and cartoons interspersed with more serious articles, it was one of the first periodicals anywhere to use the word "gay" in its title -- not to mention in its company name. Gay Publishing was in contact with US groups: in early 1965 they printed a pamphlet, "How to Handle an Interrogation If You Are Arrested," for ECHO, the coalition of East Coast Homophile Organizations, first formed in 1963.

Such contact was not rare: ASK's Doug Sanders was secretary of the later NACHO, the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations, from August 1967 to early 1969. Sanders stayed involved in the international gay movement well into the 1990s.

By July 1964 Toronto had two gay periodicals -- the second titled Two. It was produced by Gayboy (later Kamp) Publishing, inspired by the US Mattachine Society's One, which had published a supplement called TWO -- Truth Will Out.

Like One, Two was a small magazine, not a tabloid, its news, reviews, photos and artwork offering a more tony take than Gay. Not that Two's publishers didn't have some fun: for a short time in 1964 they also produced Gay Giggle and, from 1964 to 1968, The Male Nude, a physique magazine.

Gayboy's address was 457 Church Street, home of The Melody Room, a gay after hours club. (In 1982, 457 Church housed Together, a lesbian bar; by 1999 it was The Black Eagle.) Owners Rick Kerr and Sara Ellen Dunlop also ran The Music Room, another club on Yonge, the city's main drag.

On some nights at both clubs the music would stop and the lights go up -- signalling a raid. An August 15, 1964 story in The Globe and Mail reported police worried over "the growing popularity of clubs for homosexuals in the city," but frustrated that "behaviour in them is quite proper and no charges can be laid." Usually: charges of gross indecency were laid against two men at The Melody Room -- for dancing with each other.

In February 1966 the police raided K.K. Books on Yonge Street, another of Rick Kerr's venues, charging Kamp Publishing with possession of obscene material for distribution. Kamp's legal battles likely led to the demise of Two: its 11th and last issue was dated July / August 1966.

On other nights at The Music Room the music would stop for another reason entirely. Around 10:00, usually on Thursdays, people would gather, sometimes 50 or 60 of them, to talk: about gay life in their city; about discrimination and harassment; about the police.

Jim Egan was there for some of those discussions before he left town in June 1964. He wondered if the time might be right for a formal gay organization in Toronto. Talking it up he found it was not, gay people still too afraid and not without reason: in law, their sex lives were still crimes.

But beneath that fear, anger and resistance were beginning to stir.

To most people at that TGA meeting in September 1971, the long history of activism that had preceded them was significant in only one way: they knew almost nothing about it.

At the time, little of that history was known to anyone. Some of it had been destroyed -- most visibly in May 1933, when the Nazis torched the 20,000 volumes of Magnus Hirschfeld's Institute for Sexual Science. Much had been suppressed -- as in newsreel footage of that book burning, famous ever since but rarely revealing what, exactly, got tossed into the fire.

Some history had simply been lost. Even recent history: Jim Egan, by then out in rural British Columbia, would be on The Body Politic's subscription list for years, his name meaning nothing to us at all.

Much more lay waiting to be discovered: in court records and police files; in trash tabloids (digging in which would lead, in 1986, to the rediscovery of Jim Egan); in diaries and letters that survived weeding of shameful secrets; even in the heads of those old enough to remember. It was gay men and lesbians themselves who, in time, did the work of discovery. But their work was never easy -- and almost none of it had been done by 1971.

Some at that TGA meeting may have known of New York's Stonewall riots in June 1969. But that had yet to achieve mythic status as the birth of modern gay liberation. Some knew about homophile groups before Stonewall, still alive but fading faster than the word "homophile" itself. A few could even remember The Music Room in 1964.

But the world they knew by 1971 would have been unimaginable in 1964: "The Sixties," as we think of them, had hardly begun.

In 1964, the US civil rights movement meant Martin Luther King, freedom rides and Ghandian nonviolence in the face of police brutality. By April 1968 King lay dead, the long hot summers of Watts, Detroit, Newark giving rise to H Rap Brown, Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton and the Black Panthers.

The SDS, Students for a Democratic Society, had begun in 1962, but to most people "student unrest" likely meant fraternity parties -- not Berkeley's Free Speech Movement, just beginning in 1964, the Paris spring of 1968 or the Chicago riots at the Democratic National Convention that summer.

In 1964, the Beats of the 1950s were the last "counterculture" anyone could recall, James Dean the last rebel. The US had no ground troops in Vietnam, a place most North Americans then could not have found on a map.

Abortion was still a crime unless done to save a woman's life. Birth control -- though widely practiced, the pill available in Canada since 1961 -- was still defined in law as "tending to corrupt morals" and thus obscene. In 1960 a Toronto pharmacist had been jailed for selling condoms. Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique had appeared in 1963, but "feminism" was a term not much heard since its first wave ebbed in the early 20th century, after women got the vote.

No one in 1964 had heard of the Generation Gap, the New Left, hippies, Yippies, or the Age of Aquarius. No one had yet been urged to "Tune in, turn on, drop out." No one had insisted that Black is Beautiful, Sisterhood is Powerful -- or Gay is Good.

But in just a few years we'd have heard it all. The late 1960s saw one of the most swift and remarkable social transformations in modern memory. It was this transformation, this new world -- and not earlier homophile efforts -- that set the context of modern gay liberation. As Dennis Altman said at the time, in his 1971 Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation:

Gay liberation ... is much more the child of the counterculture than it is of the older homophile organizations.... [It] could only emerge amidst conditions of flux and considerable uncertainty about traditional moral values, of which conditions the counterculture is both cause and effect. Thus it is no accident that gay liberation emerged as a large- scale movement in the wake of black, youth and women's protest, nor that it bears the mark of all three.

For gay people in Canada there was a context more immediate. On August 26, 1969, amendments to the Criminal Code had come into effect, making certain homosexual acts no longer illegal. Before that, homosexual acts could lead to charges of "buggery" (maximum sentence: 14 years in prison) or "gross indecency" (five years).

Pierre Trudeau, proposing the first version of these reforms to the House of Commons in December 1967 (he was then justice minister, by April 1968 prime minister), had famously said: "There is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation."

Trudeau had been motivated less by gay protest (there had been only quiet lobbying, mostly by ASK's Doug Sanders) than by the changing social climate of the late '60s. Britain had revised its Sexual Offences Act in much the same way in July 1967 (then applying only to England and Wales), based on proposals made 10 years before in the Wolfenden Report.

The 1969 Criminal Code amendments dealt not only with homosexuality but with other issues increasingly seen as matters of private rather than public morality, divorce, abortion, birth control, and even lotteries among them.

Trudeau had also been moved by a glaring example of the state's place in the regulation -- and punishment -- of sexuality. In November 1967 the Supreme Court of Canada had dismissed an appeal by Everett George Klippert, convicted of gross indecency for mutually consensual sex with other adult men in private. He was later deemed a "dangerous sexual offender" -- a designation allowing unlimited time in prison.

The case had drawn considerable media attention. One story in The Toronto Star was headlined: "Gentle George Klippert -- Must He Serve Life?" There was growing consensus that he should not, and that no one should face such penalties for victimless "crimes." (Klippert was paroled, but not until 1971, nearly two years after his acts were no longer defined as crimes.)

That consensus was hardly unanimous: debate on the proposed reforms had raged in the House of Commons, all of that making the papers, too. Through the late '60s and to no small effect, homosexuality had been very much on the public agenda in Canada.

By August 1969 one might even say, as many then did, that homosexuality was now "legal" -- so what's the problem?

But "homosexuality" had not appeared in the Criminal Code (though it did in laws on divorce). The charges most often laid against homosexual acts, "buggery" and "gross indecency," remained on the books. (The latter did specifically outlaw "any male person" commiting "an act of gross indecency with another male person" but, like "buggery," such acts were not defined.) Both were still crimes, and both still applied to homosexual acts -- except when committed by two consenting adults in private.

The state was not truly out of the bedrooms of the nation. Not if anyone there was under 21. And not if more than two people were present. The general age of consent was 18; people could be married at 14. For homosexual acts -- or, more accurately, for buggery or gross indecency as now allowed by law -- it was 21.

Sex was also still a crime if more than two players (not counting the state) were present: "in private" meant only two people. Any more and the act had a third party witness, making it "public."

Sex was "public" and therefore illegal wherever there was a chance it might be witnessed -- the usual witnesses the police, the state still very much in the parks, washrooms and back seats of the nation. Even a kiss could be an "indecent act," a lesser charge but still a crime.

Homosexuality had not been legalized. It had been privatized, allowed only among grown ups who had the sense to stay home and keep the blinds down. Those who ventured out undisguised might find that while being homosexual wasn't a crime they might be punished for it anyway.

They could be refused jobs, housing, even a meal in a restaurant or a drink in a bar, simply because they were gay. They could not be soldiers, sailors or police officers (though many were), could not be secure as teachers, social workers, nurses or librarians (as many more were) unless they kept their lives secret (so most did).

They were, especially, to be kept away from children. They could not adopt. If they had kids of their own they could lose them.

We Demand
(Canada's first big gay demo)

Aug 28 1971 demo

Pissing rain; pissed off:
Charlie Hill on the steps of Parliament. Photo likely by Jearld Moldenhauer.

August 28, 1971

For the full text of the manifesto, more about the demo (and in some cases photos) see: The Body Politic,, #1, Nov / Dec '71; with covering letter; Flaunting It!, pp 217 - 220; and We Demand in the CLGA site, and linked pages tracing government response to 1997.

The Parliament Hill rally was the first large scale gay demonstration in Canada, if not the very first. Eight days before, a dozen members of Toronto Gay Action had held an "On to Ottawa" march down Yonge St.

Canada's modern gay liberation movement held its first major public action, a rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on August 28, 1971.

Less than two years before, Canada had only one gay group: the University of Toronto Homophile Association. At the Ottawa demonstration a dozen were represented, from campus organizations in London, Waterloo and Guelph to more broadly based community groups in Toronto and Montreal. People in Vancouver held a smaller simultaneous demo; others from afar sent messages of support.

Those nearby showed up by the busload: the Canadian Press wire service reported "close to 100" demonstrators in Ottawa; the first issue of The Body Politic would say 200. Both agreed on the weather that Saturday afternoon: it was pissing rain. Placards wilted, marchers were drenched; photos of the event feature many umbrellas. But people persevered, even stopping (as we would endlessly stop in future demos) to hear speeches. Five of them.

The date had been chosen to mark the anniversary of the 1969 Criminal Code amendments, the site chosen to put the government of Canada on notice: those reforms were just the beginning. A letter sent to the government a week before said the amendments had

"done but little to alleviate the oppression of homosexual men and women in Canada. In our daily lives we are still confronted with discrimination, police harassment, exploitation, and pressures to conform which deny our sexuality."

Accompanying that letter was a formal, detailed brief -- more than 3,000 words and lots of legal citation -- making the case for further change. It was called "We Demand."

The first manifesto of Canada's nationwide gay liberation movement, its ten demands focussed on further changes to the Criminal Code and other federal laws. In none of them -- odd as it may now seem -- did "gay," "lesbian," or "sexual orientation" appear ("sexual preference" did, once). In its own words, "We Demand" was the work of "homosexual men and women" demanding respect for their "sexuality."

In time, some (if so far not all) of those demands would be met. Others too, made on civic and provincial governments. But for most it would be a very long time, years and years; all of them lots of hard work.

Go on to Conception & birth

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This page: http://www.rbebout.com/oldbeep/geneo.htm
January 2000 / Last revised: October 5, 2003
Rick Bébout © 2000-2003