Where were the seeds of our Pride Month planted? How did it start?
In June 2017, Pride Toronto held its second annual “Pride Month.” More than 2.1 million people attended programming that spanned 25 days. Today, there are 45 sponsors listed on Pride Toronto’s Pride 2018 page, and it seems like the third annual instalment of Pride month in Toronto will be bigger than ever. Pride however has its roots, as we all know, in much humbler beginnings. To celebrate Pride month, we wanted to take a look at the very first Pride in Toronto: when was it? What was it?
The date of the first “Official Pride” will continue to be debated among academics, scholars and activists. Regardless of this debate, the 1970s ground swell of grassroots activism, individual sacrifice, risk and the innovative community building of Toronto’s gay community must be acknowledged and heralded as the beginning of the national queer movement that is responsible for the rights we now cherish. The CLGA has a full collection of archival artifacts, vertical files, video and photography documenting the events and activism that infused this movement and the early iterations of Pride.
Jearld Moldenhauer, who spoke to queerstory.ca about CHAT’s involvement, detailed the first gay pride week held in 1972. In the former synagogue that housed CHAT at the time, Pride had “panel discussions, there was an art exhibit, there was enough space to have dances – everything.” But it wasn’t all fun and games. As the group of approximately 300 people marched up University Avenue, defying the city with their unsanctioned parade, Moldenhauer noted the “unmarked police cars, with cameras, taking pictures…”. George Hislop, cofounder of CHAT, and the first openly gay city council candidate, joined the younger activist for the inaugural march in 1972.
The first ever Pride picnic in Toronto was held on August 1, 1971, at Hanlan’s Point. It was organized by the Community Homophile Association of Toronto (CHAT) and Toronto Gay Action. This was followed by a Pride week held in the following year, featuring another picnic but also a small march in the city. An advertisement archived by the CLGA encourages folks to meet at Ward Island for the picnic, and to bring “your own lunch, frisbees, footballs or whatever else turns you on.”
Jearld Moldenhauer, who spoke to queerstory.ca about CHAT’s involvement, detailed the first gay pride week held by CHAT in 1972. In the former synagogue that housed CHAT at the time, Pride had “panel discussions, there was an art exhibit, there was enough space to have dances – everything.” But it wasn’t all fun and games. There were also, according to Moldenhauer, “unmarked police cars, with cameras, taking pictures…” of those participating in the march. Former Toronto city councillor and cofounder of CHAT, George Hislop, attended this very first Pride march in 1972 – but it wasn’t a huge event. There were only about 300 people in attendance in 1972.
Nevertheless, the community was getting louder. In 1974, the “Brunswick four” – Adrienne Potts, Patricia Murphy, Sue Wells and Heather Beyers – performed a parody of the song I Enjoy Being a Girl (their rendition was called I Enjoy Being a Dyke) in the former Brunswick House on Brunswick Avenue and Bloor Street and were arrested after refusing to vacate the premises. The arresting officers, who were later charged with assault, were acquitted – but this would not be the community’s last interaction with the police that attracted media attention.
Former Toronto city councillor Kyle Rae explains for queerstory.ca that “we were out opposing the police, the provincial government, protesting…” the oppression of the gay community, following the bathhouse raids in Toronto. The idea of holding a Pride in Toronto eventually grew out of these protests, but Rae says this event was decidedly a celebration, rather than a protest. Rather than opposing something, the 1981 Pride was a celebration of the community – though not one devoid of tension. “We marched from Grange Park down to Queen Street, from Queen Street over to Yonge. You weren’t allowed to march on Yonge Street back then…we took it anyway,” remembers Rae.
Susan Cole, feminist author and playwright, was at the event in 1981. “When you are in a historical moment, you really don’t know you’re in a historical moment,” she reflects on queerstory.ca. “We didn’t really understand the importance of what was happening at that time.”
The CLGA continues to document this history and those vital historical moments. We have archives of each of these porto-pride events, documenting our history to keep our stories of Pride alive.
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