TGA (TORONTO GAY ACTION)
Me And The Bars And Charlie And TGA
Toronto Gay Action came out of the CHAT activist caucus (which included a good portion of the CHAT executive) and had its founding meeting June 27, 1971. Charlie Dobie, my lover, was a member of that caucus and was with TGA from its start. TGA included most Toronto gay activists, people who were also a part of CHAT, UTHA, Guerilla, and various libertarian and left-wing movements, people who were interested in challenging the status quo. Out of TGA came the first national demonstration in Ottawa and the We Demand proclamation, fight-back campaigns against homophobic public figures, street theatre, zaps, The Body Politic, the CHAT/TGA campaign against the Parkside and so on. These notes, however, are merely something I've written to accompany bits and pieces Charlie and I have given to the Archives so the group is mostly a backdrop here.
My first TGA meeting was in July. Late for the meeting, I remember arriving at The Hall on Huron St., going down the stairs to the basement, and entering a room packed with people. It was startling, so many people interested in the direct action that TGA promised.
At this meeting I first met Charlie. We were breaking up into four or five smaller groups -- political organizing, consciousness-raising, and so on. Everyone else seemed to know where they wanted to go. Charlie and I were standing there somewhat at a loss and we had a short conversation. He talked in a manner different than the other people in the room, without all the certainties. I was pleased that here at least was one other person whose thoughts were not all arranged in a clear series of priorities for the evening, not to mention life. We chose different groups though and didn't talk again at any length until we ran into each other a couple of weeks later, at the Parkside. I'd just got back from a week of solitude, paddling around Algonquin Park by myself. By the middle of August we were living together.
I had never had any organized political involvement before. I was familiar with other things besides the mainstream press, had taken part in anti-war demos, anti-War Measures rallies, etc., went to places like Rochdale, Nightingale, to THOG festivals and so on. Yet this sort of thing I did on my own initiative and mostly alone, never made friends or said more than a few words to anybody. Counterculture or not, everybody seemed straight (the truth of course being very much different) and straights and I didn't have much in common anymore.
Most of my gay friends weren't into these things. We drank, danced, smoked up, fucked, went to drag shows. Meek and middle class though I was, I'd slipped into bar life in the 1960's via places like the Altesse, the Only, the Dominion Square Tavern, etc. in Montreal and half my friends had been in and out of penitentiaries. My first bathouse, at 17, was the covert Vancouver scene in 1965. In Toronto much of the crowd I was a part of lived in the bars and clubs, popping pills and doing chemicals (not my thing) some of them of course lived a calmer existence. We did other things, went to movies, theatre, restaurants, argued, talked, passed the time in a hundred ways, but gay liberation none of us had ever heard of. These early years may not have always been the easiest on the psyche, or the ultimate in stylish living, but I was young, the world was more interesting than Immaculate Heart Of Mary High School had ever hinted, and at least my life now encompassed the fact I was a sexual being.
In sum, we lived in a gay world but it was a different part of it than CHAT and TGA inhabited. When I discovered gay lib I wanted to get the word out. This, for me, was the prime motivation for the BP (The Body Politic.) Not wasting time, when I landed in the movement I was off and running right away. Sometimes I chose the wrong tone, turning everything into some sort of tract, trying to do things with tools for which I had little talent, but the important thing was to reach other gay people. There was a ferment of ideas about the personal and the political and about their intersection, and if we could just spread them among our own people then gay life would begin to open up and life itself would start to change for us. It wasn't all going to happen overnight, but it was gay people talking with gay people, that was the meaning of it and the glory of it. It was the taking into our own hands of our destiny.
From this early sense of possibilities came my later dissatisfaction with a message that only spoke of legislated rights and nothing besides, that was not interested in discovering what we were all about, in truly developing a new perspective from which to see ourselves and the world, that seemed in essence not a dialogue among gay people but a monologue directed at straight society.
TGA had run its course by 1973. It was resurrected at Queen's Park for an hour or so later, when CGRO (or was this pre-CGRO? it may have been NGEC or GATE) arranged a meeting of the provincial NDP caucus with gay organizations. We were allowed one person per group and I went along to fill out the ranks, make it seem there were more of us. With my usual lack of the required bearing, I giggled on being introduced as the representative of TGA. The idea of TGA being formally presented at the legislative assembly to a party caucus was too much for me.
As for me and the bars I came out of to join up with gay lib, well I never did really leave them behind. I continued through the 70's and 80's to spend a lot of time in these places. I had and I voiced the same legitimate, sometimes bitter, complaints, as well as the usual grumblings, about the Toronto bars and clubs that many people did. My 1971 Guerilla article on the CHAT community centre is a riff on that.
But despite how hard the bars and clubs could be on people at times, they were nevertheless, the chief gathering places for gay males: places for drinking and dancing, cruising and carousing. All things of which I was very fond. Even though I often kept to myself in later years, being able to sit there among gay people made me feel a part of life. And it's surprising how much D&D and C&C you can accomplish all by yourself. On the other hand when there were people to share a table of beer with, to argue and joke with and listen to, I truly had some gorgeous times. As for gay lib and gay causes, trying to convince all and sundry of the worth of these things, especially in the seventies, was as much a part of my life in these places as anywhere else; and more interesting and worthwhile than preaching to the converted or to heterosexual society. Frustrating though it often was, you could measure the progress of the gay movement, whatever the decade, by the way people in gay bars talked about gay life.
For a bit of the flavour of the times, below is a sampling of TGA-associated leftovers that were in Charlie's and my box of memorabilia.
-flyer for the first national rally, August 28, 1971. This event was a TGA inspiration and the group planned and managed it and, in consultation with other groups, wrote the list of demands that composed the brief.
-clipping from Georgia Strait, re arrests for postering in Vancouver. A concurrent demo in support of the rally took place there.
-TGA flyer re homophobic editorial on CHUM-AM. Brian Waite was given air time on a later program to reply.
-letter from me which appeared in Guerilla in the same issue as coverage of the 1971 Ottawa demo. It asks for a clearer editorial stance in favor of gay lib. Herb Spiers did a follow-up letter a week or two later.
-Ontario Campaign For Sexual Equality pamphlet. Not a TGA-only endeavour but most of the same people. (Fall, 1971)
-an anti-Allan Lawrence flyer from the same group. Peter Maloney (of CHAT) was running against him as a Liberal. Peter, no socialist he, nevertheless often professed to be disgusted with the Liberals. Somehow though, the perpetual candidate always ended up back in the party fold.
-the Ryersonian, Sept.28/71 with a front page interview with Allan Lawrence titled "Lawrence Hits The Gay Boys". He almost won the leadership of the provincial PC's over Bill Davis, automatic premiership at the time. In other provinces the likes of the NDP had its Barretts and its Schreyers and its Romanows and they weren't much better, sometimes just a little more circumspect.
-TGA 1971 anti-Lawrence flyer that I made up to hand out outside a stage performance of The Boys In The Band at the old Central Library theatre at College and St. George.
-TGA flyer on the Parkside campaign (Dec/71-Jan/72)
-two BackChat articles on the CHAT/TGA campaign against the Parkside. This was a continuation of a year-long CHAT effort.
-TGA petition, from its Immigration Act campaign in the spring of 1972
-TGA pamphlet "What Is Gay Liberation" from mid-1972, the new TGA address here was Hugh Brewster's apartment. Hugh later became a successful writer and publisher. I've heard he doesn't have much use for this period of his life.
-the second brief to parliament, Aug.26, 1972