Wednesday, May 13, 2009

519 Seniors Drop In - CLGA History Presentation April 27th

The 519 Church Street Community Centre has always been considered the Gay and Lesbian Community Centre. It has hosted more Queer Community meetings than any other building in the city over its life span. Located, just north of Wellesley on Church Street in the heart of the Gay Community, this centre was indeed providing services to its community. So when the Community Engagement Committee of CLGA was approached about making a presentation on our history, I jumped at the chance. It would be like going back home. I had spent many an evening attending meetings in that building.

The 519 has a Seniors Drop-In once a week and a good number of the seniors who drop by are in fact Gay or Lesbian. So I was also a bit intimidated since most of these people would have lived through the very history that I would be talking about.

I was warmly welcomed by Dick Moore who introduced me to the approximately 20 people in the room. There was a nice mix of men and women, with the usual larger representation of men. A couple of the men I recognized from my past years of activism. It was a very casual atmosphere of sitting around tables, sipping tea and nibbling freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

I was using Lesbian and Gay Liberation In Canada, a selected Annotated Chronology, 1964 - 1975, by Donald W. McLeod as my base reference source. It is a chronology of major events outlining Canadian lesbian and gay history for the period indicated, combined with a brief selected bibliography of sources of each event. The depth of material in that book is overwhelming, but proved to be the perfect tool for me to be able to pick out some of the trends, patterns and progress of gay rights in Canada, while occasionally referencing similar events in other countries.

Since I only had an hour, I needed to summarize the material into very broad strokes of commentary, trying from time to time to pick out examples of events which highlighted steps in our history of life in the closet to living with greater and greater openness about being out. Many of the people present would nod vigorously when I touched a point in their lives directly. Unfortunately, the chronology of McLeod's book ended in 1975 and I was running out of time, so I had to do a quick summary of the last few decades thinking that most in the room would have been active participants in this last period. However, I think we need to go back for another session to do proper justice to that period as well.

The conversation which followed was very lively, with individuals recounting the bars they used to attend, the clandestine nature of some of these clubs and bars, the stereo types which existed, the games that needed to be played to hid one's sexual identity, the way the police actively raided clubs and how the men and women had to switch dance partners when the lights flashed the warning signal that the cops were on their way. We talked about the piano bars and how they were real magnets for the gays and the dykes. There was real history in the room with all those present remembering their lives, their experiences, their traumas and their fun times, their romances, and their heart aches. It was great to be a part of the rekindling of those memories. This was experiencing archives of a different sort; this was the living lesbian and gay archives.

Dennis Findlay

No comments:

Post a Comment