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social sciences

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Egan, Jim (1921-2000)  
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In 1943, despite his exemption from military service, Egan volunteered again and was accepted by the merchant navy. His assignments took him to the Mediterranean, Australia, New Guinea, and the Philippines. In the south Pacific, he wrote, "we were dive-bombed and chased by submarines," but "I was very fortunate in that I was never sunk."

Egan's first naval voyage was to Bari, Italy. He avoided going ashore with his crew mates, whom he described as "quite often hard-drinking heterosexuals with limited interests," which consisted mainly of getting drunk and finding a brothel. Egan generally made excuses and stayed on the ship or slipped ashore later.

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In some ports, Egan found "an incredible gay underworld" in bars where "you'd see uniforms from every one of the Allied forces--Marines and sailors and Air Force--and ranks up to majors and colonels."

Discharged from the merchant navy in 1947, Egan returned to Toronto and worked at various jobs without finding a particular calling. He also began frequenting "the gay spots around town," including the beverage room at the Savarin Hotel and the King Cole Room at the Park Plaza Hotel. On one of his visits to the Savarin he was surprised to see his brother, Charlie, who he had not previously known was gay. Although the brothers "did not get along at all" as youngsters, they developed and sustained a very close relationship as adults.

Egan longed for a steady partner and found one when a friend introduced him to Jack Nesbit at the Savarin. The two soon moved in together. Both of their families were supportive of the couple. Egan wrote that his mother "took to [Nesbit] like another son, and they had a wonderful relationship for as long as she lived."

Egan was never sure if Nesbit's parents truly understood the nature of his relationship with their son but was gratified when Mrs. Nesbit "right out of the clear blue sky" once said, "I can die happy because Jack's found someone who can look after him."

In 1949 Egan took a job at a small biological supply company, and he and Nesbit relocated to the small town of Oak Ridges, some fifteen miles north of Toronto. That same year he took his first steps toward becoming a gay rights activist.

Egan wrote in his memoir that "Toronto could be a dangerous place for gay men during the late 1940s and 1950s." The police would periodically conduct sweeps of gay cruising areas, often using young officers to entrap and arrest gay men. Conviction on a charge of gross indecency was a virtual certainty. Those found guilty were fined one hundred dollars, but the true harm came from the publication of the men's names--and sometimes their addresses--in "the local scandal sheets." Such a disclosure could cost a man his job and make him an object of scorn.

In the wake of the publication of Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948, an increasing number of articles about homosexuality began appearing in both the tabloid and mainstream press. Egan was outraged by the "gross inaccuracies" that he found in the pieces and began writing letters to the editors in protest. The major magazines to which he wrote, including Coronet, Esquire, Ladies' Home Journal, Parents' Magazine, Redbook, and Time, never published any of his letters, but in May 1950 one appeared in the Toronto newspaper the Globe and Mail and another in the local scandal sheet Flash. Egan suspected that, especially in the case of the tabloids, the editors were more interested in stirring up controversy than in educating their readers; nevertheless, he saw an opportunity and "threw [himself] into the cause."

Since Egan was finding no articles presenting the perspective of gay men, he decided to write some himself. His "I Am a Homosexual" appeared in Sir! magazine in December 1950 under the pseudonym Leo Engle (the name of his grandfather), and an unsigned series of seven articles entitled "Aspects of Homosexuality" ran in the Toronto True News Times in 1951. In the same year the tabloid newspaper Justice Weekly published a number of letters from Egan, who was identified only as J. L. E.

Egan next approached the editor of Justice Weekly with a proposal for a series called "Aspects of Homosexuality" that would cover a wide range of topics including the history of the persecution of homosexuals in England, gay rights organizations in the United States, the Kinsey report, and the portrayal of gay men and lesbians in the media. Egan succeeded not only in having the series published (December 1953 through February 1954) but also in persuading the editor to arrange to reprint articles from leading gay and lesbian publications such as ONE Magazine, The Mattachine Review, The Ladder, Der Kreis, and Arcadie. Egan was disappointed that his efforts brought little response from gay men and lesbians in Toronto, but, he wrote, "it was probably too early for that."

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