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social sciences

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Montreal  
 
page: 1  2  3  

But for those who were wary of public cruising and reluctant to visit the city's Red Light district, a few private networks of gays and lesbians appeared, such as the literary and artistic circle created by Elsa Gidlow and her gay friend Roswell George Mills. In the French community, a similar literary association appeared in the 1930s around Marcel Valois and other admirers of Proust and Gide. Curiously, however, the first locally written novel to broach the subject, Orage sur mon corps by André Béland, was not published until 1944.

In 1945, the rape and murder of a nine-year-old boy in what was to be for a long time the city's favorite gay cruising spot, an area of Mount Royal Park dubbed "the jungle," led to witch hunts and a reinforcement of the public perception of homosexuality as evil.

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Worse yet, Jean Drapeau, the lawyer assigned to defend the murderer (who was hanged), was to become the longest serving mayor of Montreal, after launching his political career as a crusader for morality. Rabidly , he had most of the bushes and many trees on the mountain cut down to prevent cruising, causing serious erosion problems. Later, he would repeatedly order the police to "clean up" the city, that is, crack down on homosexual meeting places, especially before the world fair of 1967 and the Olympics of 1976.

In 1954, the first sociological study of The Homosexual in Urban Society, as was titled Maurice Leznoff's Master's thesis, offered a fascinating look at the "overt" and "covert" lives of gay Montrealers. It underlined the extent and importance of private networks, but also of bars such as the Tropical Club and restaurants such as the Diana Grill in creating a sense of community. Although gay men and lesbians had to rely on word of mouth or on the sensationalistic reports of the "yellow press" to find these establishments, some, such as the Monarch Café, had incredibly long lives, lasting from 1928 to the late 1980s.

There is no trace of an organized movement in Montreal until the late 1960s even though many individuals had contacts with the organizations of Toronto, the United States, and France, as evidenced by copies of ONE and Arcadie which have been given by locals to the Quebec Gay Archives.

But if political organizations did not exist, commercial ones did, especially in the field of physique photography. Through the publications of the Weider brothers, who had made a fortune in the weight-training business, and through the work of photographer Alan B. Stone and his Mark One Studio, pictures of Montreal muscle boys were disseminated worldwide.

Gay Liberation

Decriminalization of sodomy in 1969, combined with calls for gay liberation in the countercultural publication Mainmise, led to the creation of the Front de libération homosexuelle in 1971, the first of many gay liberation organizations.

Many of these organizations were based at universities, the most important one being Gay McGill (later Gay Montreal), which organized monthly dances that attracted thousands. As elsewhere, lesbians in these groups reacted to the misogyny and sexism of gay men by creating their own organizations, but an additional problem unique to Montreal was the split between French and English communities.

In the early 1970s, the English groups were generally more active and politically in tune with the American movements, a situation that has tentatively been explained by the fact that many French homosexuals devoted their energies to the cause of national independence rather than to that of gay liberation. But when events of importance occurred, both communities mobilized, as they did for what is known as Montreal's "Stonewall": the 1977 raid on the Truxx bar.

The Truxx Bar Raid

Police harassment of gay men and lesbians had been frequent from the 1950s onwards, with raids on bars and baths being its most sensational manifestation. By 1976 this situation had led to the formation of the Comité homosexuel anti-répression, later to become the Association pour les droits des gai(e)s du Québec (ADGQ). When Truxx was raided, the response was rapid. The following night a major downtown intersection was blocked by protestors and a riot ensued.

Surprisingly, the media took the side of the homosexuals. The heavy-handedness of the police and the application of morals laws from Victorian times, such as the law on Bawdy Houses used to incriminate the patrons, were deemed unacceptable. Contrary to previous raids, most of the accused pleaded not guilty and were eventually acquitted.

Political Success

The timing could not have been better, for legislators were then studying an amendment to Quebec's Charter of Rights that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Pressured by the ADGQ and gauging the public to be supportive, the government of the province acted rapidly and in December 1977, Montreal was one of the first cities in the world to include such a clause in its charter.

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