This July, Vancouver hosted its 38th Pride Parade, an annual event where a number of diverse communities come together to celebrate the years of hardship and turmoil endured by our LGBTQ2+ ancestors. While the fight for equal rights is by no means over, there have been many events throughout Canada’s history that have helped make great progress towards the success of this movement. Although these events might only seem significant to a certain demographic, the results truly affected all Canadians, regardless of sexuality or beliefs, and I think it’s important for adults and children alike to understand Canada’s queer history. While the education system puts much emphasis on learning about Canada’s diverse culture and the many people who faced adversity while building our country, next to nothing is taught regarding our rich LGBTQ2+ history. I believe that in order to keep from falling back into old ways, it is imperative that we all, whether queer or straight, have an understanding and appreciation for the struggles faced by our ancestors.
In the 19th century, Canadian law stated that “”Every person guilty of the abominable crime of Buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal, shall suffer death as a felon.” This continued until 1892, when the death penalty was removed and a new, broader law was created that condemned all homosexual activity. By the mid-1900s, this law had again been reformed to label gay males as sex offenders, or even worse, “criminal sexual psychopaths”, and called for a lifetime prison sentence.
In the 1950s, the infamous “fruit machine” was used to purge hundreds of alleged gay men from their jobs. The machine’s intent was to identify homosexuals by subjecting viewers to male and female pornographic images then measuring pupil dilation, which was believed to be a measure of “erotic response”. Unsurprisingly, this method was questionable and clearly flawed in many ways, and fell out of favour after a decade. Allegations made towards Northwest Territories resident Everett George Klippert also arose to the public’s eye during this time. Klippert was questioned under accusations of committing arson, but after rigorous questioning he was instead arrested for another reason: admitting to intercourse with a number of men, and a refusal to change ways. Klippert was charged with four counts of “gross indecency”, labeled a ‘dangerous sex offender’, sentenced to a life in prison, and became the last Canadian to be incarcerated for homosexual activity.
In 1969, the omnibus bill, C-150, was passed, and homosexual activity was decriminalized. Said Pierre Trudeau (who would soon become Prime Minister), “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” Not long after, Klippert was released from custody. The 1970s saw the emergence of the gay liberation movement, in which communities across the globe began to stand up for gay rights through the organization of rallies, protests, and pride events. Canada’s first programming and media oriented towards the gay community appeared, Quebec became the first jurisdiction in the entire world to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and Canada’s laws were amended to permit homosexual immigrant men into the country.
In the 1980s, New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Svend Robinson tried repeatedly to pass inclusivity bills that would for example, include “partner of the same sex” in the definition of “spouse”. He was defeated each time, but later became Canada’s first “out” Member of Parliament. What is dubbed “Canada’s version of Stonewall” took place in 1981, after over 300 men were arrested in an gay bathhouse. Thousands took to the streets to protest the arrests, and this spawned Toronto’s first Lesbian and Gay Pride Day. The ‘80s also brought the HIV/AIDS epidemic, in which hundreds of gay men fell ill due to an incurable sexually transmitted disease. This did nothing to help the public’s outlook on gay men, which was already heavily influenced by stigmas and stereotypes. Homosexual males were, and still are, prohibited from donating blood with the Red Cross.
The 1990s marked another great milestone for Canada’s queer community: Kim Campbell, then-Justice Minister, announced that homosexuals would be permitted to join the Canadian Armed Forces. In addition, same-sex adoption became legal in a number of provinces. 1996 saw the addition of “sexual orientation” to the Canadian Human Rights Act, a fight finally won after years of defeated bills.
In 2000, the definition of “common-law relationship” was extended to include same-sex couples, meaning that gay couples would receive the same tax, pension, and income benefits as opposite-sex couples. Ontario’s first same-sex couple was married in the Metropolitan Community Church, although the government refused to legally recognize the marriage. This soon changes in 2002, when Canada recognizes same-sex marriage and the Ontario Supreme Court declares the prohibition of same-sex marriage unconstitutional. However, this same year, Alberta passes a bill to ban same-sex marriage.
It was another three years before the right for same-sex couples to get married is officially recognized in Canada. On July 20th, 2005, Canada became the fourth country to do so. Since then, much has been done to continue reversing the stigmas and discrimination still aimed at the LGBTQ2+ community. Many people in the transgender community are still fighting for the right to legally identify as their true gender, and discrimination is by no means abolished in the workplace or in the everyday lives of queer people. As we move on, we must continue to remember why we are fighting for these rights, and we cannot forget the many who sacrificed their livelihoods to give us the privileges we have today.