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social sciences

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Egan, Jim (1921-2000)  
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Egan, however, refused to be discouraged and continued to educate himself about homosexuality, reading "all the gay classics [he] could find." His bookshelves held scholarly works by Magnus Hirschfeld, Havelock Ellis, John Addington Symonds, and others as well as the fiction of writers such as Marcel Proust, Gore Vidal, James Barr (James Fugaté), and Fritz Peters.

In addition to reading, Egan began correspondence with gay activists in the United States. He exchanged letters with Henry Gerber of the Society for Human Rights, Hal Call of the Mattachine Society, and W. Dorr Legg of ONE, Incorporated. In January 1959 Egan and Nesbit traveled to Los Angeles for the Midwinter Institute of ONE.

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Egan had hopes of establishing a gay rights organization in Toronto but never succeeded in garnering sufficient support from the community. Indeed, in early 1964 when Egan and Nesbit agreed to be interviewed (and quoted pseudonymously) for a two-part article entitled "The Homosexual Next Door: A Sober Appraisal of a New Social Phenomenon" by Sidney Katz of Maclean's magazine, several friends discouraged them from carrying through with it. Egan believed in the power of visibility, however, and was pleased to cooperate with Katz, whose finished piece he found "refreshingly non-judgmental for the time and very informative."

Egan and Nesbit were also planning to be interviewed on journalist Pierre Berton's CBC television show in February 1964, but the segment was dropped from the schedule.

Although Nesbit had been willing to participate in the interviews with Katz and Berton, he had never felt the enthusiasm for activism that Egan did. In the spring of 1964, he asked Egan to give up his public campaigning. When Egan refused, the couple separated but still remained in contact with each other.

A short while later, Egan realized that what he wanted most was for Nesbit and him "to grow old together as a couple and die together." In addition, Egan was feeling "disenchanted with being a gay activist" because "most members of the gay community in Toronto didn't give a hoot about what came to be known as 'gay liberation.'"

Egan and Nesbit reconciled in May 1964 and left Toronto the following month to settle in Vancouver, British Columbia, where they established a biological supply company that sold preserved marine specimens.

Egan suspended his activities as a gay activist as he had promised but, ever the crusader, became involved in the environmental movement. Because of his work on a water-quality issue, neighbors urged him to run for director of Electoral Area B of the Regional District of Comox-Strathcona. His victory in 1981 made him the first Canadian in an openly gay relationship to be elected to public office. His bids for reelection were successful, and he served in the post until 1993.

As the cultural climate changed, Nesbit became amenable to resuming work for glbtq rights. In 1985 he and Egan established a local chapter of the Island Gay Society, and they hosted monthly drop-in meetings at their home for the next eleven years. Egan also became a member of the North Island AIDS Coalition and served as its president in 1994.

Egan and Nesbit's return to glbtq activism took them all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Under the Old Age Security Act, Canadians are entitled to a pension at age sixty-five, and pensioners' spouses can apply for benefits upon turning sixty. In February 1987, shortly before Nesbit's sixtieth birthday, he and Egan filed a request for spousal benefits that was, as they had expected, turned down. They then proceeded to mount a legal challenge, based on the provision in section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which had been interpreted to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Limiting the definition of "spouse" to an opposite-sex partner, they contended, was an instance of just such discrimination.

The case was accepted by the Federal Court on December 6, 1988 but not heard until the end of May 1991. Justice Leonard Martin decided to dismiss the case the following December.

Egan and Nesbit challenged the decision. Their suit reached the Federal Court of Appeal in August 1992. The 2-1 ruling the following April once again went against the couple. There was, however, a glimmer of hope in the opinion of dissenting Justice Allen Linden, who wrote that failure to grant benefits to same-sex couples only furthered "the prejudiced view of the legitimacy and worth of these relationships."

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