Most people never learn about the history of the gay rights movement, nor do they learn about the riot that occurred in 1969, a riot that started a revolution. In the same way, most people never see any GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) issues raised in their textbooks. Homophobia is based on the lack of knowledge about gay issues, and the gay rights movement is one of the most fundamental things that should be known. Even in the 1990s, there was little to no information in textbooks pertaining to homosexuality, while at the same time everyone was learning about the civil rights and the feminist movements that took place during the same time period (cited in Shows, 1991). This article will discuss the spread of the gay rights movement, mostly throughout Canada, as well as the its origins, evolution and its contemporary issues.
The Origins of the Gay Rights Movement
If you look back 35 years ago, to Greenwich Village in New York City, you will quite possibly hear about
|Gay rights protest in the 1960s (Source: Microsoft Encarta Encyclopaedia 2001, Corbis)|
the riots that took place at the Stonewall Inn on August 28, 1969, in the early hours of the morning. The popular gay bar was raided around 1:00 AM by the police, and little did they know, but it would be the start of a revolution. While gay men, lesbians and drag queens would normally comply with the police, this time they fought back. It was the beginning of the gay rights movement. At one point, a Molotov cocktail was thrown and Sylvia Rivera quoted later as having thought, “My God, the revolution is here. The revolution is finally here” (Baird, 2001, p.20).
Before the Stonewall Inn riots, homosexuality was something that was hidden; it wasn’t really talked about even though there was an uprising of gay rights groups in the 1950s. The movement didn’t reach Canada until much later, when the first group was formed in 1964 in Vancouver, British Columbia. These groups worked to create respect for the people of sexual minorities and to reform laws on sexual activity (cited in Warner, 2002). Unfortunately, they had very little success, with the majority of them failing within a year of their creation, due to a lack of members and resources.
The Spread of the Gay Rights Movement
After Stonewall, gays and lesbians began to mobilize. Between 1970 and 1974, many old ideas about homosexuality were vanished, at least for the time being. People thought less and less that homosexuality was a sin, as well a criminal activity, which was a major breakthrough in the gay rights movement. The gay liberation movement started things such as the chant “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” and Pride day and week festivities, such as Divers/Cité in Montreal, for example.
Homosexuality was already, or at least more so, widely accepted throughout Western Europe, and after the riots, there were more and more groups in Canada fighting for change and against mainstream ideas and values. In big cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, v
|Divers/Cité, the Montreal Gay Pride festival. (Source: http://diverscite.org)|
isible communities were made, such as the Gay Village in Montreal, and in smaller cities there were resources established such as call-in lines and support meetings made available.
On university campuses, the biggest differences were made as there were more resources made available than ever. The University of Waterloo was one of the first universities in the world to create an environment that celebrates diversity, not only ethnic and religious, but also for sexual minorities. There were open forums, newsletters and social events that were open not only to the GLB community. At the University of Moncton, straight students even attended pub nights and the like because it “was cool” (cited from Warner, 2002).
Universities played a huge role in the gay rights movement, because not only did they provide services to the student body, but they also educated and fought for rights. It meant that universities played a huge role in the movement, because they were seen as an more open environment than the outside world.
The spread of the movement from Stonewall, to small groups and to universities was vital, because after graduation, many of the students continued with the cause.
The Evolution of the Gay Rights Movement
Eventually, the open environment that was created in the 1970s was abolished by the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Since sexual minorities were seen as the ones spreading HIV and AIDS, there was enormous pressure put on the gay rights movement. Luckily, the organizations created in the 1970s still existed and fought hard against this unjust bias. Governments knew that the problem was not the homosexual population, so many groups received funding from the government to help promote awareness within the community.
Throughout the world, it was said that “To some extend, gay communities achieved ‘legitimation through disaster’” (Baird, 2001, p. 35 & 36). That is because even in countries where it was (and still is) illegal to be homosexual, AIDS groups that were run by and for the GLBT community still received funding.
Other fights that were waged within the gay community in Canada included unfair censorship laws against homosexual pornography and literature, the lowering of the age of consent for anal sex, which was, and remains to this day, eighteen (cited from Warner, 2002).
The Current “Status” of the Gay Rights Movement
Currently, there are several fights going on in the Canadian and global gay rights movement. The most publicized would include the fight for same-sex marriage in Canada and the US, adoption rights, and in many parts of the United States, the fight against anti-sodomy laws in 20 states.
Within Canada, two mayors have been found by the human rights tribunal to be discriminating against gays and lesbians for their refusal to h
old gay pride events in their cities. The mayors from Fredericton, New Brunswick and Kelowna, British Columbia were both tried twice, in 1998 and 2000 (cited in Warner, 2001), but mayor Brad Woodside of Fredericton, New Brunswick, proclaimed in May 2004 that there would be a pride week in Fredericton that year (cited in anonymous, 2004).
It is very easy to observe that life has gotten better for gays and lesbians since the 1960s. Thanks to the people who were at Stonewall Inn in the early hours of that fateful morning, there was a revolution that made people all over the world able to stand up and say: “I’m gay!” without fearing persecution from the law. Due to the work of thousands of people worldwide, homosexuality is something that is more globally accepted than it was 10 years ago. Today, homosexual pornography isn’t seized at the Canadian border, the city of Fredericton, New Brunswick celebrated its first gay pride week this past June and same-sex marriage has been accepted in seven provinces and territories within Canada (which consists of Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, the Yukon, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan). Even though there is still much homophobia within Canada, the gay rights movement remains determined and shall remains until they overcome.History of Gay Rights Movements in Canada,