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social sciences

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In 1972, Glad Day Bookshop, Toronto's first gay book shop, opened and is still active. Buddies in Bad Times, a gay theater company, was established by Sky Gilbert in 1977. Gay artistic collectives, such as ChromaZone and JAC, arose in the early 1980s.

The community's infrastructure gradually diversified to match Toronto's multicultural nature. For example, in 1977, the Toronto Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf began, followed in 1980 by Gay Asians of Toronto (GAT). Zami, the first Canadian group for Black and West Indian gays and lesbians, was founded in 1984.

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In 1981, George Hislop became the first openly gay candidate for city council, although he was defeated. The area in which he ran for office included the intersection of Church and Wellesley streets, which was now the center of Toronto's gay life with bars, baths, restaurants, shops, and numerous high-rise apartment buildings.

Resistance to Gay Activism

Gay activism was met by resistance from the government through police raids. The growing bathhouse culture experienced increasingly more frequent raids, culminating in a simultaneous raid on four bathhouses on February 5, 1981. Over 300 men were arrested as found-ins and twenty more as keepers under the provision of the bawdy house law. It was the largest mass arrest in Canada since the Quebec separatist crisis.

The rage set off by these raids resulted in the first mass demonstration by the gay community on the evening of February 6. In the subsequent trials, most accused were judged to be not guilty. As a result of the unexpected reaction, the municipal government commissioned a report that recognized Toronto's gays and lesbians as a community.

Other community institutions also came under fire: Canada Customs seized shipments of books and periodicals from Glad Day Bookstore, even though many of the titles were sold openly in other book shops. Glad Day survived, but the harassment continues to this day.

Despite these attempts at repression, Toronto's gay community came out of this struggle with a powerful sense of itself, a stronger infrastructure, and recognition by the municipal government.

Toronto's city government has included sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination policies since 1973. The Toronto Public Library Board granted benefits to same-sex spouses in 1989, and the municipal government followed in 1992; the Toronto Board of Education released a gay-positive curriculum guide in 1992. Toronto's mayors have proclaimed Pride Day since 1992. The City of Toronto even gave Buddies in Bad Times Theatre its own building.

The AIDS Crisis

However, a new challenge arose in 1982 with the appearance of the first cases of AIDS in Toronto. Building on the activist infrastructure already in place, a new set of institutions developed to address the needs of people with AIDS.

These institutions were dominated and controlled by the gay community. The AIDS Committee of Toronto was established in June 1983, and it gave a liberationist bent to the struggle for AIDS prevention and research in Toronto.

Again, Toronto's multicultural nature influenced the community's response. The city's Native community was served by Two-Spirited People of the First Nations while the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention was established to meet the special needs of its community. Toronto took its own distinct road in combating AIDS: The baths were not closed, sex was accepted as a given, emphasis was placed on safer sex.

The Struggle for Equal Rights

Having achieved recognition from government, Toronto gays and lesbians went on to fight for equal rights. The Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario (CLGRO), established in 1975, fought to include sexuality under the protective clauses of the Ontario Human Rights Code.

However, the 1990s "We are Family" campaign implicitly contradicted the liberationist vision that earlier dominated Toronto's gay life. This direction culminated with the first gay marriages at Metropolitan Community Church in 2001 and their sanction by the Ontario Court of Appeals in 2003.

Toronto Today

Toronto's gay and lesbian community is now recognized as an integral part of the city's fabric. An openly gay city councillor represents a heavily gay ward in City Council, and an out member of Ontario's Legislative Assembly represents the provincial riding.

The 519 Community Centre provides a venue for social and political activities for the community, and the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archive provides the focus for the city's gay and lesbian history. The newspapers Xtra! and fab serve gay males, Siren the lesbian community. Toronto's Pride parade is one of the largest in the world.

Toronto's glbtq community has gone from being a hidden subculture to a power base in politics, the economy, and the arts.

John D. Stanley

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social sciences >> Overview:  Canada

In 2005 Canada became the fourth country to recognize same-sex marriages; the milestone victory solidified Canada's position as a leader in the struggle for glbtq equality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Montreal

In the last two decades, Montreal has become friendly to and supportive of its glbtq citizens and visitors.

social sciences >> Overview:  Parades and Marches

Both parades and marches have served to render the glbtq community visible; whereas marches typically attempt to effect political change, parades and pride events affirm identity and community.

social sciences >> Overview:  Same-Sex Marriage

Lesbian and gay couples have been fighting for the freedom to marry since the dawn of the modern glbtq struggle for equality; despite some success abroad, progress toward same-sex marriage in the United States has been slow.

social sciences >> Overview:  Vancouver

With a constant influx of immigrants and a vigorous and adaptable economy, Vancouver is a progressive city with a large and active glbtq community.

social sciences >> Egan, Jim

One of Canada's first gay activists, Jim Egan began demanding respect and equal rights in the late 1940s; in his later years he mounted a challenge to Canada's law on spousal retirement benefits.

literature >> Overview:  Gay and Lesbian Bookstores

The network of independent gay and lesbian bookstores that arose in the 1970s served as incubators for the literary and cultural development of the modern gay rights movement in the United States and abroad.

social sciences >> Hawkes, Brent

Senior Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, the Reverend Doctor Brent Hawkes has worked with fervor and dedication to secure equal rights for glbtq Canadians.

social sciences >> Hislop, George

An early leader of the Canadian gay rights movement, George Hislop was an indefatigable fighter for equality.

arts >> Tewksbury, Mark

Olympic medalist Mark Tewksbury was closeted throughout his competitive swimming career, but since coming out has become an advocate for glbtq rights.

social sciences >> Wilson, Douglas

Canadian human rights activist Douglas Wilson is also remembered as the life partner of American-Canadian writer/performer Peter McGehee; together they married activism with art and entertainment.


Bruner, Arnold. Out of the Closet: Study of Relations between the Homosexual Community and the Police. Toronto: City of Toronto, 1981.

Burns, Robert. "'Queer Doings': Attitudes towards Homosexuality in 19th century Canada." The Body Politic No. 6 (December-January 1976): 4-7.

Churchill, David Stewart. "Coming Out in a Cold Climate: A History of Gay Men in Toronto during the 1950's." Unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Toronto, 1993.

Egan, Jim. Challenging the Conspiracy of Silence: My Life as a Canadian Gay Activist. Toronto: The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives and Homewood Books, 1998.

Graham, Gordon Hill. Short Days Ago. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1972.

Grube, John. "'No More Shit': The Struggle for Democratic Gay Space in Toronto." Queers in Space: Communities/Public Places/Sites of Resistance. Gordon Brent Ingram, Anne-Marie Bouthillette, and Yolanda Retter, eds. San Francisco: Bay Press, 1997.127-45.

Jackson, Ed, and Stan Persky. Flaunting It! A Decade of Gay Journalism from the Body Politic. Vancouver: New Star Books, 1982.

Kinsman, Gary. The Regulation of Desire. Homo and Hetero Sexualities. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1996.

Lynch, Michael. "Living with Kaposi's." The Body Politic No. 88 (November 1982): 31-37.

Maynard, Steven. "Through a Hole in the Lavatory Wall: Homosexual Subcultures, Police Surveillance, and the Dialects of Discovery, Toronto, 1890-1930." Journal of the History of Sexuality 5 (1994): 207-42.

_____. "'Horrible Temptations': Sex, Men, and Working-Class Male Youth in Urban Ontario, 1890-1935." Canadian Historical Review 78 (June 1997): 191-235.

_____. "Sex Underground: The Lost World of Toronto's Cruisy Public Toilets." Xtra! No. 461 (June 27, 2002): 30-33.

McLeod, Donald W. A Brief History of Gay: Canada's First Gay Tabloid, 1964-1966. Toronto: Homewood Books, 2003.

Warner, Tom. Never Going Back: A History of Queer Activism in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002.

White, Alan. Lesbian and Gay Heritage of Toronto. Toronto: Canadian Gay Archives, 1982.


    Citation Information
    Author: Stanley, John D.  
    Entry Title: Toronto  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated December 16, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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