PRIDE IN TORONTO IN THE 1970s:
THE 1971 GAY PICNIC --- 1972-74 TORONTO GAY PRIDE WEEK SCHEDULES --- GAYDAYS 1978
(Jearld Moldenhauer has posted a couple of videos of the 1973 Pride march on Youtube. Click here to go to the first of these.)
Sept.9, 2016 -- I've added a somewhat cranky introduction here about the disappearance of the 1970s from the Toronto queer history storyline. Feel free to skip right to the documents below this screed, starting with the first Gay Picnic.
Prior to the 1970s there were some, mostly individual, efforts at countering the homophobic, erotophobic culture that prevailed in Canada. But the arrival of gay liberation and the birth of the Canadian gay movement signal that decade as the beginning of a truly organized queer resistance.
Pride and similar events of the 1970s are markers of this resistance. In Toronto these events include the Gay Picnic of 1971, the Gay Pride Weeks and Pride marches of 1972, 1973, and 1974, and Gaydays of 1978. Certainly in the same spirit were the gay rights marches and rallies of 1975 and 1976, the first sponsored by the Coalition for Gay Rights in Ontario and the second occurring as part of the Fourth National Gay Conference.
There were also repeated attempts in the 1970s to have Toronto officially declare Pride Day. In the mix with all this were the many queer protests, demonstrations, pickets etc in the city. Noteworthy among these for their particular resonance with the 1981 bathraids protests, were the 1978 St. Lawrence Market rally against Anita Bryant and the night march up Yonge St following that event. These were also the largest queer protests in Toronto up to that point, with upwards of 1,000 people taking part in each. Later in the year a Gaydays dance brought out 1,400 people to the same St. Lawrence Market.
Fitting the Pride events of subsequent decades into this progression requires acknowledging both the effect of the 1981 protests, and the importance of the 1970s to those protests and that year.
Some may call the 1981 protests Toronto's Stonewall, I'm content with the Raids Protests or something similar. The way these full-throated protests waited a full decade for the infrastructure to fall into place before happening seems very Toronto. That's not meant as a negative observation so much as a comment on the degree to which Toronto simply absorbed things without being affected by them. By the time the 1981 raids took place the Toronto queer community was the largest and arguably the most politically attuned in Canada. At that point there were at least 40 to 50 queer groups and organizations of all sizes and shapes in Toronto, as well as innumerable commercial ventures. Included in that number, of course, was the Right To Privacy Committee that played such a large role well into the 1980s.
Equally relevant, the political experience gained, the groundwork done, and the politicized networks formed by the Toronto queer communities of the 1970s were the framework for the response to the 1981 raids and essential to its success. Without the 1970s, 1981 would have been a very different year. Accompanying this response to the 1981 raids were an influx of newly-minted activists, the return of others, and the papering over of community divisions.
The galvanizing effect of the 1981 protests in turn led to the much needed and very welcome revival of Pride events in Toronto. Parade attendance in the 1980s was only in the hundreds at first and it took two or three years for it to rival the numbers who had turned out for the protests. But the rest of course is history.
The historical importance of 1981 to Pride lies in the formation of the Lesbian & Gay Pride Day Committee that year, and its determination to see that Pride became an annual event from then on.
This does present a problem though in terms of the way the history of Pride in Toronto has been offered up in the decades since. The roots of the current organization, Pride Toronto, only reach back to that 1981 Committee, while what would legitimately be considered the Pride events of the 1970s were organized by other groups. In effect Pride Toronto's first Pride becomes confused with Toronto's first Pride, when those are two very different things, occurring arguably a decade apart.
As a result the 1970s Pride celebrations have found themselves, at best, relegated to an asterisk. At worst part of the history of that new-born Toronto queer community, whose efforts and drudge work were vital to much that happened later in the city, ends up wiped from the record.
The narrative that sees 1981 as Toronto's first Pride has of course been been repeatedly picked up by the straight media, which are in turn the means by which the majority of people, queer and straight, get their versions of Toronto's LGBTQ history. So once again part of a complex queer history loses its place -- even within the queer community. In a heterosexual culture, where much of what is queer has been disregarded, purged, or rewritten in a manner that denies us heritage, this is par for the course. To have this originate within queer culture itself shows how vulnerable our history is, even in our own hands.
Moreover because 1981 was such a watershed year and Pride celebrations have become such a presence in Toronto, dating Pride from that year only furthers the urge to date the birth of the modern Toronto queer presence similarly. This results in a general ignorance of the roots of that entity, humble and messy as they were. The 1970s were an era both of community and community division, a mix of political briefs and zaps, pickets and picnics, protest marches, sit-ins, and attempts to work the corridors of power. In that decade queer people both struggled to feel out the shape of the political movement they were creating and battled towards a new sense of themselves. In Toronto, for the most part, this gradual chipping away at the way things were lacks the clear and decisive moments around which myth-making can begin, and so the decade finds itself at first overshadowed, then slipping out of the story.
The consequences to Pride in Toronto, of dating it only from 1981, is to take Pride itself out of a larger story, to deny it resonance with what came before. For a quick example of how this changes the view consider the July/2016 issue of Toronto Life and its recounting of Toronto queer history. There the huge 1981 St. Lawrence Market rally that was part of the 1981 bathraids protests becomes a mere appendage of modern Pride. It finds itself referred to as the first Pride event in Toronto history.
Not only false, this misattributes the rally's importance and misunderstands its meaning. Not only was it not some subset of Pride, this historic rally was in reality a bridge between decades. It echoed with the memories of a previous time the community had put aside its differences the equally large St. Lawrence Market rally of 1978 and the subsequent night march; and the even larger Gaydays celebratory dance at the Market later that year, at the end of August. That this type of 1970s celebration (Pride Weeks/Gaydays) was timed to mark the anniversary of the August 1971 first national queer demonstration, on Parliament Hill, provides even further resonance.
Consider again the 1973 Pride march, follow again the link at the top of this page to the video of this event posted by Jearld Moldenhauer on Youtube. The march is small as it works its way through downtown Toronto passing through the streets, then the square at City Hall, eventually ending up at Queen's Park. But it is also in-your-face visible, watched by a downtown Saturday crowd that hasn't seen much like this before, a crowd that is being questioned by David Newcome, microphone in hand, as it goes along. This is different from the 1981 parade, taking place as that event did, with few spectators, on a shutdown Sunday of what was then a still very puritanical Toronto. This is not at all to disparage the 1981 parade but to point to a difference of intentions and community circumstances.
And from the people who were part of this 1970's parade had come, or would come, such things as the University of Toronto Homophile Association one of the earliest gay organizations in Canada; Glad Day Books now the oldest gay bookstore in the world; the Community Homophile Association of Toronto which put the gay community on the map in Toronto and which was at that time the largest gay organization in Canada; The Body Politic out of which would come both Xtra and The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives; The Coaltion for Gay Rights in Ontario vital to the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Ontario Human Rights Code; The Gay Alliance Towards Equality, and so on, and so on. These people didn't disappear come 1981, they were joined by others. Time does of course move on and a lot has happened since the 1970s, but if you are going to speak of the history of Pride in Toronto and not include events like these then you're just making it up.
That the parades of the 1980's were vastly smaller than those of later decades is no reason to disparage them. That those of the 1970s were, unsurprisingly, smaller still is no reason to write them out of history. On the contrary it might be said that the earlier the event the more cultural hostility the participants were stepping forward in. Given how Toronto Pride occurs in June in honour of the June, 1969, Stonewall riots, and given how Pride and other events of the 1970s in Toronto were as much about standing up to a homophobic culture as they were about celebration, there is something at least ironic in how diminished those 1970s Toronto events find themselves within the history of both Toronto Pride and the Toronto queer community itself.
Restated here, some of the difference between 1970s Pride events and later ones:
- in the 1970s marches and parades took place on Saturdays in an attempt at visibility and public statement. In 1981 the bathraids protests provided all the visibility and public statement the community could handle, and the parade was changed to the quiet Sundays of what was then a still puritanical Toronto. The familiar placards of the bathraids protests and the 1970s marches were put down and balloons (which made their first appearance at 1978 Gaydays) were taken up. Nobody was forgetting the battles still to be fought but everything has its place and certainly by this point in 1981 a little relief was in order. The community itself had become extremely visible and the chance to celebrate was welcome, and most clearly what it wanted.
- in the 1970s Pride events were held in August, in honour of the August 28, 1971 demonstration on Parliament Hill. This was a national event, initiated by Toronto Gay Action with the support and participation of groups across the country. The first organized queer demonstration in the country, the opening note in a cultural and political battle to change the country, it included the reading out on the steps of Parliament of a 13 page set of demands from the Canadian queer community to Canada. Picked up by the media across the country, in reality it was the very public announcement to Canada and to queer people of our arrival as a community.
- in 1981, as mentioned, Toronto Pride events were changed to June to mark Stonewall instead.
in 2012, Pride Toronto did post a light-hearted video on the 1972 Pride parade to Youtube. A bit of a lark -- eighty-five seconds long, plus 15 seconds of credits, blink and you miss it. The same goes for the two or three photos it shows of the actual march/parade. There's an anecdote involving the parade permit and then, at the end, in the longest focus of the video, a group photo seemingly of the participants that day or at least that Pride Week. In truth though the photo is from 1978 and has nothing to do with 1972. But hey, it's only history . . .
May 30, 2021
AT LAST : Pride Toronto through its History page has finally at least acknowledged the 1970s. You might ask why it took so long, but it's done.
FIRST THE GAY PICNIC, AUG.1, 1971
GAY PRIDE WEEK AUGUST 19-27, 1972
GAY PRIDE WEEK AUGUST 17-26, 1973
THE 1973 GAY PRIDE MARCH:
Jearld Moldenhauer has posted a couple of videos of the 1973 Pride march on Youtube. Click here to go to the first of these.
GAY PRIDE WEEK AUGUST 17-25, 1974
THE 1974 GAY PRIDE MARCH:The 1974 program below limits itself to CHAT/MCC events and doesn't include the 1974 march, which was handled by GATE. See TORONTO GAY PRIDE MARCH 1974 for PHOTOGRAPHS of that march.
GAYDAYS, AUGUST 24-27, 1978
SEE One Day From GAYDAYS, 1978 for PHOTOGRAPHS of the Saturday FAIR listed for August 26
GAYDAYS OPENING NIGHT
will feature GEORGE HISLOP, for many years the voice of the homophile movement in Toronto, and now the proprietor of a very stylish bar, reminiscing about gay Toronto in the days of yore; SHEILA GOSTICK, the bright new comic who's the hit of Yuk-Yuk's komedy kabaret; FERRON, the popular Vancouver-based lesbian singer/song writer, star entertainer of the first "Gay News and Views" TV season and very witty person; and JOHN RECHY, author of CITY OF NIGHT, NUMBERS, and THE SEXUAL OUTLAW. RECHY, whose first novel was published in 1963, has in recent years become increasingly outspoken in his defense of open gay sexuality, and in his condemnation of both sado-masochism and censorship.
COLLEGE OF EDUCATION AUDITORIUM SOUTH-EAST CORNER OF BLOOR AND SPADINA 8:00 PM $3.00
FRIDAY AUGUST 25
S&M: A DISCUSSION
JOHN RECHY is perhaps the most severe critic of the role Sado-Masochism plays in gay male culture. JOHN ALAN LEE is a Toronto Sociologist and writer whose most recent book, GETTING SEX, in part defends S&M. LIBERATED ENERGY has been able to arrange a public discussion of sado-masochism which will feature these two writers, and will be moderated by David Mole.
519 CHURCH STREET COMMUNITY CENTRE PINE ROOM 3:OOPM
ANTI-NORMAL, one of the newest gay organizations in the city, is sponsoring a concert/dance with the very popular rock 'n roll band, Drastic measures. Non-stop dancing, licensed bar, food; the first big gay rock dance in town.
519 CHURCH STREET COMMUNITY CENTRE 9 PM $2.50
WOMEN'S MUSIC CONCERT
LIBERATED ENERGY is pleased to present, in their Canadian premiere, a major U.S. women's band, the IZQUIERDA ENSEMBLE. IZQUIERDA is a group of four women from Portland, Oregon, who present their original music in an innovative, acoustic form that emphasizes vocal harmonies. Many of the songs reflect feminist and Third World consciousness; most are written by Naomi Littlebear, a Chicana woman. Through a skillful interweaving of voices and piano, guitar, flute, and percussion, the ensemble creates its own unique and energizing harmonic blend percussion, the ensemble creates its own unique and energizing harmonic blend. Also performing will be April Kassirer, well known in Toronto for her skillful guitar work and sensitive song-writing as well as her fine voice. Both men and women are welcome to enjoy this evening of fine women's music.
INNIS TOWN HALL, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO, 2 SUSSEX 8:OO PM $4.50 ADVANCE $5.00 AT THE DOOR
AFTER THE CONCERT: A WOMEN-ONLY PUB
A women-only pub will be held at the Innis Pub, admission free with concert-ticket stubs, $1.00 cover charge otherwise.
CELEBRATE LESBIAN CULTURE
Write a short story and win a prize as well. Enter the Great Canadan Lesbian Fiction Contest spnsored by The Body Politic. Lesbian novelists Jane Rule and Marie-Claire Blais are the judges-prizes are $400, $200, and $100 plus publication in The Body Politic. The deadline is January 2, 1979. For more information call 863-6320 or write The Great Canadian Lesbian Fiction Contest, c/o The Body Politic, Box 7289, Station A, Toronto M5W 1X9.
SATURDAY AUGUST 26
This is the one part of GAYDAYS that has been designed for all the gay people of Toronto, and their friends and loved ones gay or straight. Over forty organizations are active in Metro right now, and they'll all be at the fair to talk about what the gay community is doing these days. As well be continuous music from talented singers and musicians (including FERRON, and BOO WATSON, a local feminist singer/songwriter), arts and crafts in exhibition, a poetry corner, clowns and mime artists performing throughout the park. Box lunches will be available close by, so you can spend a couple of sunny hours getting to know the organized gay community, and each other, a little better.
QUEEN'S PARK, NORTH OF WELLESLEY 11:00 AM TO 5:00PM
IN BETWEEN: ADULT REFRESHMENT GARDEN
The fair ends at five, the dance doesn't start until nine, and even if you take an hour's nap, you'll be ready to go by seven. What to do? Why not visit the 519 Church Street Community Centre, where an adult refreshment garden is being held at the edge of Cawthra Square Park. Handy to downtown, too.
THE BIGGEST GAY DANCE IN THE HISTORY OF TORONTO
If it was any bigger it would have to be outside! St. Lawrence Market North, where so many gay people buy their vegetables on Saturday morning, will be transformed into the biggest dance palace in town by Saturday night. The best music from two of the best DJ's in Toronto, Ilona Laney and Don Bell, will keep you moving all evening long. We have arranged for a special occasion permit from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, and there'll be a lavish buffet supper.
And don't forget: The Gaydays Raffle Lottery (round-trip ticket for two to San Francisco) will be drawn at midnight.
ST. LAWRENCE MARKET NORTH FRONT AND JARVIS, 9:00 PM $3.00
SUNDAY AUGUST 27
The Metro Toronto Inter-Faith Gay Council, which includes Dignity, Integrity, Congregation B'nai Kehillah, and the Metropolitan Community Church, is sponsoring a Sunday morning ecumenical service on the Toronto Islands. For up to the minute information, call or drop in to the MCC House, 29 Granby, (364-9799), or visit their display at the fair. The guest speaker at the service will be Reverend NANCY WILSON, pastor of MCC Detroit.
TORONTO ISLAND FOLLOW THE SIGNS 11:00 AM.
The final event of the GAYDAYS schedule, the picnic on Hanlan's Point will giv e everyone a chance to relax after a busy few days, and get a sunburn too. LIBERATED ENERGY will provide a free piece of watermelon (while supplies last) and you can watch a special baseball game between teams from the men's softball league and the women's fastball league. Game time is 3 PM, at the baseball diamond near the fishing pool. FROM NOON TILL THE LAST FERRY HOME
SIMULTANEOUS WITH GAYDAYS
WORD IS OUT: STORIES OF SOME OF OUR LIVES
NEW YORKER CINEMA, 651 YONGE ST. STARTING AUG. 18TH, SHOWS AT 7 & 9:30. $3.75. SENIOR CITIZENS $1.50
WEDNESDAY AUGUST 23
THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST HOMOSEXUALITY AND GAY RIGHTS: A RADICAL PERSPECTIVE THORSTAD, A TALK
519 CHURCH STREET COMMUNITY CENTRE PINE ROOM 8:00 PM. $2
GAY COMMUNITY SERVICES listed in the Gaydays program:
ANTI-NORMAL, APHRODITE'S ALTERNATIVE, THE BODY POLITIC, CANADIAN GAY ARCHIVES, CATALYST PRESS, CHATSWORTH CHARITABLE FOUNDATION, COALITION FOR GAY RIGHTS IN ONTARIO, COMMITTEE TO DEFEND JOHN DAMIEN, COMMUNITY HOMOPHILE ASSOCIATION OF TORONTO (CHAT), CONGREGATION B'NAI KEHILLAH OF TORONTO FOR GAY JEWS, DIGNITY FOR GAY CATHOLICS, FREE LESBIANS AND GAYS (FLAG), GAY ACADEMIC UNION, GAY ALLIANCE TOWARD EQUALITY (GATE), GAY COMMUNITY CALENDAR, GAY COMMUNITY SERVICES CENTRE, GAYS AT TORONTO (GAT), GAY TELEVISION COLLECTIVE, GAY YOUTH TORONTO, GAYS AT YORK, GAY EQUALITY MISSISSAUGA, GLAD DAY BOOKSTORE, HARBINGER GAY MEN'S DROP-IN, HARBINGER LESBIAN DROP-IN, HASSLE FREE CLINIC, INTEGRITY - GAY ANGLICANS, LESBIAN AND GAY TRADE UNION GROUP, LESBIAN ORGANIZATION OF TORONTO (LOOT), METROPOLITAN COMMUNITY CHURCH, GAYLINE WEST, GAY OFFENSIVE COLLECTIVE, GAY TV, LIBERTARIANS FOR GAY RIGHTS, NDP GAY CAUCUS, OLDER LESBIANS AND GAYS, OSGOODE GAY CAUCUS, PINK TRIANGLE PRESS, THREE OF CUPS, TAG (TORONTO AREA GAYS), TORONTO WOMEN'S BOOKSTORE, TRANSVESTITES IN TORONTO, TRI-AID CHARITABLE FOUNDATION, WAGES DUE LESBIANS, WOMEN'S ARCHIVES