History Series: LGBTQ+ Rights and Canadian Pride

It is important to remember that the pride marches now celebrated across the globe were a result of the Stonewall Riots in New York, in 1969. The first brick was thrown by Marsha P. Johnson, a Black self-identified drag queen. In that same year, homosexuality was de-criminalized in Canada, resulting from legislation introduced in 1967.

In decades previous, gay acts were seen as mental instability and dangerous. It has been a long road from receiving the death sentence for being gay, to where we are today, and we still have a way to go. Same-sex marriage was progressively introduced beginning in 2003, and legally recognized across Canada in 2005. While it never should have been illegal to be gay, Canada was at the forefront for legalizing compared to most of the world.

Canadian Gay Pride LGBTQ+ Canada Rainbow Flags

Canadian Pride and The Brunswick Four

Just two years after the Stonewall Riots in New York, the first protests for gay rights took place in Canada, with demonstrations here in Ottawa, and in Vancouver. One year later, the first pride celebration occurred in Toronto as a fairly modest affair. Our country’s first gay publication, The Body Politic, was released around the same time.

In 1974, four lesbian women, ‘The Brunswick Four’ were thrown out of a Toronto bar for singing a parody song, “I Enjoy Being a Dyke.” Adrienne Potts, Pat Murphy, Sue Wells and Heather Elizabeth Nelson were refused further service and eventually the police were called. The police injured two of the women, while making harassing comments as they brought the women to the station.

The women were refused their right to call a lawyer. Once released, they ended up being forcibly removed. Adrienne Potts was punched and thrown to the ground by an officer. Upon returning to the bar to look for testimonies, they were again forcibly removed. Charges were made against the four women. The Toronto LGBTQ+ community stood behind them, fundraising and attending the trial.

Around the time of this trial, changes were slowly being made in Canada, but many gay establishments were still being raided. LGTBQ+ activism was growing and the unfair trials of The Brunswick Four encouraged the Toronto LGTBQ+ community to keep fighting.

Raids and arrests occurred for years. One instance referred to now as ‘Canada’s Stonewall’, was a turning point and lead to the establishment of Lesbian and Gay Pride Day in Toronto, in 1981. Ten years later, the city of Toronto endorsed Pride Day.

Violence, complaints and discrimination still occurred for years and unfortunately occur to this day. Various legislation has been passed recognizing the human rights of the LGTBQ+ community. The Pride events, however, continue to be an annual celebration and a safe space. In 2014 WorldPride was celebrated in Toronto where 12,000+ marchers joined. It was the fourth global WorldPride, the first in Canada.

The theme for Capital Pride this year in Ottawa is ‘Wherever We Are’. As with much of 2020, Pride is going virtual. The festivities will run from August 21 – 30, 2020 – click here for more information.


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