Here at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, we have a lot of textiles. From Pride banners to hankies, wedding veils to theatre costumes, the depth and breadth of the LGBTQ2+ experience is represented in our collection of woven artifacts. People attach intimate meaning to fabric, whether in the clothes we wear, in community art projects like the AIDS quilt, or in the banners sewn and decorated when we come together to march and create a more equitable future for all people. Fabric is tied to how we experience our bodies and identities in day-to-day life; it is intricately woven into LGBTQ2+ culture, history, and activism. Here are a few of the artifacts in the CLGA’s care that have protected, revealed, and represented LGBTQ2+ people in their performances, activism, and everyday lives.
By far the largest collection of textiles at the CLGA is our T-shirt collection. The graphics on these t-shirts are diverse and varied, relating mostly to Pride, bars and businesses, HIV/AIDS activism, and a wide range of community events and organizations. You can come to 34 Isabella to view the entire digitized collection.
The CLGA also receives lots of headwear. The bulk of our collection consists of baseball caps that share similar themes and images with our t-shirt collection, but we also have other headpieces ranging from wedding veils to bathhouse-branded sweatbands.
The CLGA began as a project by activists at The Body Politic, and retains many of the banners that these activists displayed. Most of the banners in our collection belonged to groups demonstrating in favour of LGBTQ2+ rights at Pride and other events all over the country, but we also have less politically-charged banners that belonged to sports teams, unions, and church groups.
For those in the know, hankies require little explanation. For the rest of us, though, here is a resource that can help explain their significance: https://user.xmission.com/~trevin/hanky.html . Hankies were used as a cruising code back before sex was constantly a swipe of the finger away, and the CLGA has collected quite a few over the years.
We have many costumes in our collection, the bulk of which belonged to drag performers. Of particular note is the habit of one of the Toronto members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a gaggle of irreverent wimple-clad performance activists. Visit their online archive at: http://sistersopitoronto.ca/ . Another item of a more solemn character is a concentration camp prisoner’s costume used in the 1981-82 Montréal production of Bent, a play about the persecution of gays in Nazi Germany. The costumes in the care of the CLGA illustrate the broad affective range of textiles in the LGBTQ2+ community.
All of the material covered in this article is accessible at our 34 Isabella location. However, much of our other material is in off-site holding and an appointment is necessary to retrieve it. To make an appointment, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by: Ben Charlton with assistance from Sydney Gautreau