Open Letter To The Toronto Star (October, 1974)

The Toronto gay community had been skirmishing with the media for years over their homophobic policies. In an attempt to justify its unjustifiable attitudes the Toronto Star on Oct.19, 1974 published a lead editorial "Homosexuals -- Where The Star Draws The Line". They then limited rebuttal letters to one day's worth.

The Body Politic had been named in the editorial but the Star refused to publish a reply from the BP. The BP then put out a four page tabloid titled "The Star Sells Hate".

Not wanting my own letter to go to waste, Charlie and I assembled a small package consisting of a covering note, the Star's editorial, and that letter. We mailed this out to every board member of the Star, to its editors and columnists, to the executives, editors and columnists of the Globe and a host of other newspapers and magazines, to news departments of radio and TV stations across the province and to individual personalities at those stations, to federal, provincial and municipal politicians, to lawyers, wire services, press councils and other regulatory bodies.

There was a community picket of the Star on Nov.8/74 over its editorial. As had happened more than once Charlie was in the interesting position of stopping to talk to his lover and his friends on the picket line and then having to go on into the building to his job at the Star.


The Editor
The Toronto Star

There are numerous points of fact which could be made in rebuttal to the Star's editorial on its position vis a vis the gay community. Even after much discarding I'm left with eight that directly concern statements in that editorial. As briefly as possible:

1) In every instance of the Star being brought before the Ontario Press Council by a gay person or organization, the Star has been found guilty of discrimination. The Press Council, in conceding the Star breaks neither rules of the Council nor laws in so discriminating, merely emphasizes its powerlessness as a regulatory body and the farcical nature of its existence. Certainly, its decisions offer no justification for the Star's attitudes; discrimination, after all, is discrimination.

2) Over the course of a number of years, the Body Politic has published numerous articles from many different viewpoints. In basing its refusal of ads from the Body Politic on the content of two of these articles, the Star has indicated it is merely seeking excuses for its actions.

3) While the Star claims acceptance of the rights of gay people to "free speech" and "publication", its actions bespeak a different outlook, for in 1972 the Star forced the Body Politic's former printer, Newsweb Enterprises, to refuse any further business from the Body Politic.

4) In its editorial, the Star attempts to link its refusal of an ad from Glad Day Books with its refusal of those from the Body Politic. The implication is that it disapproves of the "proselytizing" nature of a gay bookstore. In the Star's reckoning, it would seem, anytime gay people say anything of which the Star does not approve, anytime gay people write anything of which the Star does not approve, anytime gay people come together to buy or sell anything of which the Star does not approve, then that is "proselytizing". So much for the Star's claimed advocacy of the rights of gay people to "free speech, publication, and assembly".

5) While the Star may claim it has no ban on advertising from gay organizations, it certainly tried to impose one.

In refusing an ad from a gay organization, the Metropolitan Community Church, in February of 1974, the Star made the ridiculous assertion, in a carefully phrased letter, that it did not "accept advertising from a group, an individual, or an organization whose message is directed towards a specific segment of society". Only after receiving unfavorable publicity did the Star relent.

6) In addition, in its Shared Accomodation ads, the Star, for years, refused to allow advertisers to indicate that a particular accomodation was in a gay household. At the same time though, it allowed other advertisers to state that the accomodation they were offering was in a straight household, and, indeed, that it was for straights only.

Recently the Star, in allowing the words "homosexual atmosphere" to be used, changed its policy somewhat. However the word "gay" is still not allowed, the Star claims it does not accept "euphemisms". Some pettiness knows no bounds.

Considering that it does allow the use of the word "straight", and considering the homosexual connotation of the word "gay" is accepted in recent editions of various dictionaries, Webster's New World Dictionary being one, the Star's practice in this area still amounts to discrimination.

In sum, it seems the Star's stated belief in "full civil rights for homosexuals...in housing" does not extend to its own advertising columns.

7) As for the Star's claim it has "no ban on news concerning homosexuals", a perusal of such news items reveals four things:

a) In all of these items there is a ban on the use of the word "gay" despite its dictionary acceptance, and despite its wide use both within and outside the gay community.

b) Most of the articles published concern actions of organizations outside the gay community, be they the Vanier Institute, the American Pyschiatric Association, or the government department administering LIP grants. I have no objection to such items, however there is never any attempt to follow up with reaction from gay organizations. More importantly, there are no articles whose primary focus is on the gay community, itself.

c) Only in the case that a demonstration or a direct conflict with the law or the forces of the law is initiated is there chance of such coverage, and even then the chances are slim.

d) The Star's claim that it did not publish information on the gay studies course at the University of Toronto because it was of marginal interest, is absurd. Even the attempt to term it a "homosexual studies course" is laughable, comparable to calling a black studies course, a negroid studies course.

The first recognition by a Canadian university of gay studies as a legitimate area of concern is of historic importance to gay people in Canada, and the Star's attitude reveals nothing so much as abysmal ignorance on its part.

8) There is a great deal of antagonism between the Star and the gay community in Toronto. This situation did not come to be as a result of "tolerance" and fairness on the part of the Star. All gay organizations, in dealing with the Star in the past few years, have come across much pettiness and bigotry. Every time the Star has attempted to justify its attitudes, its arguments upon examination are found to be evasive of the issue, specious, wanting in logic, in fact just so much red herring. Continually, as the Star is forced to abandon one position, it has found new arguments, new reasons to discriminate. The more this happens, the more ridiculous the Star looks.

People or institutions that attempt to set themselves up as guardians of the public's morals, in the end must rely on bigotry for support and are often the greatest danger to equality, liberty and justice within a society.

It is time the Star came to realize that unfairness in the treatment of gay issues and concerns is in the end an injustice to the community as a whole.


Flyer for Toronto Star picket, Friday November 8, 1974



Pursuing The Star and its justifications as it ducks down one alleyway after another over the years.

Borden Spears was a senior editor at the Star and was characterized as representing "the readers' interests in the Star newsroom." On Nov.8, 1975 the article "Homosexuals find publicity is not an unmixed blessing" appeared under his byline on the editorial page. In part it read as follows:

"To a surprising extent, grievances about press coverage of homosexuality revolve around questions of language. The Star last week received protests from others as well as homosexuals, about a news heading that used the word "deviates." It is an essentially neutral word, denoting nothing more than a variance from the norm, and correct enough statistically. Nevertheless, it has undoubtedly acquired a connotation of anti-social perversion which made its use in the context insensitive.

But the major grievance against The Star is its refusal to adopt the word "gay" as a synonym for homosexual. Homosexuals argue the word in this sense has a long tradition dating back at least 100 years, that it is common practice, and that insistence on "homosexual" places undue emphasis on a sexual differentiation which is only part of the "gay" attitude to life.

Debasing the language

The Star's position is simply that while a newly coined word might be acceptable, to use "gay" in this sense is to debase the language. "Gay" has a clear unequivocal meaning which is lost if the word is transferred to a totally different context, and there is no need for the transfer when an equally clear word exists. It is a form of theft in which The Star is not willing to assist, though it will permit the word "gay" in quotations when used by others, or when it is part of the name of an organization."


On March 13, 1976, an article on Vancouver by Judith Timson appeared in the Star, including the following paragraph:

"Down in Gastown . . several after-hours clubs have sprung up -- with plastic furnishings which one friend described as "early ugly," and another as "early suicidal fag . . "

I wrote to Borden Spears saying "Re the enclosed clipping, for a newspaper so concerned with the protection of the English lanuage (re use of the word "gay") you certainly seem to allow your writers quite some leeway with their 'euphemisms.'"

Euphemisms for "homosexual" had long been stated to be unacceptable to The Star. On this, see item 6 in the 1974 Open Letter To The Star, above.

On March 19, 1976, Borden Spears sent a letter of reply in which, in reference to the word "gay" he says:

"The word is not banned from the Star; we do not hesitate to use it in quotation marks when it is employed by others . . . But we do not, by choice, use the word in this sense in our own writing because it has a clear meaning of its own and there is no need for the confusion."

Well certainly, quotation marks or not, there would be no confusion over "early suicidal fag."



A letter of mine to the Globe & Mail in March, 1974 -- not published of course

This letter was not part of the Star package above. I've included it here for whatever amusement value it has, and as one more illustration of 1970's media attitudes.

The Editor
The Globe & Mail

The Globe & Mail's editorial "Freedom?", Mar.15/74, consisting of objections to "Thought Police" who prevented Edward Banfield from saying his piece at the University of Toronto contained a certain amount of hypocrisy. The Star also had its moralizing to do on the subject.

I couldn't help recalling another case a while back involving both newspapers. I'm referring to the trouble the Body Politic had in having its advertisments accepted, and attempts to throttle its publication altogether. At the start it involved a rival and the Globe reported the affair with some glee. Then suddenly the shoe was on the other foot. An ad was submitted to them and the silence, as they say, was deafening. Should a gay newspaper be allowed to advertise its existence? Horrors! They cringed in Forest Hill and on King Street.

Well the shoe is still on the other foot and the ad is still waiting to be accepted but the Globe seems to have a few "Thought Police" of its own. Perhaps, in a quiet hour, its editors ought to read their own editorial, or lacking the necessary skills, have it read to them. In the meantime their meanderings remain merely another case of "Do as I say not as I do".