It’s thirty years since the bath house raids hit the gay community in Toronto. I didn’t realize it had been so long. Of course I wasn’t involved. That a bunch of fags got arrested meant nothing to me at the time. For that matter it meant nothing to most straight men and women.
Prejudice And The Bath Houses
Most straight men in their twenties, like I was back then were more interested in drooling over Farrah Fawcett in that incredible red one piece swim suit, or staring at the boobs in the center of Playboy, than caring about human rights issues. For that matter most of us wouldn’t have thought that fags, as they were less than affectionately known, had rights. The attitudes of the police toward the gay community as documented in Xtra, were really the same as the attitudes of most straight men. Yes, we were a prejudiced bunch of jerks.
But, you also have to remember that none of us knew anyone who was openly gay. A couple of the people that I went to high school with came out in the 1980s. Before that, well, society as a whole wasn’t appreciative of gay men. Even today acceptance is limited in some segments of society.
Gay women on the other hand were ignored. Almost everyone knew women that lived together. That they may have been sleeping together wasn’t discussed, even if suspicions existed. Writer Charlotte MacLeod called such arrangements ‘Boston Marriages’, and in the days before same sex marriage became legal, it was fairly common.
Gays Are Criminals
“Gays are incipient criminals,” was the officer’s reply. “Why would we want to liaise with criminals?”
That was a common view among most people at the time. So when the bath house raids went down, most people, myself included, thought that they were a great thing! Hey, being gay was evidence enough that you were a criminal. Nothing more was needed.
Backlash From The Raids
All the straights were taken aback by the demonstration the next day. The response of the police was typical, and was cheered by most straights. A lot of gay men and women ended up injured in the ongoing demonstrations. I’m afraid to say that I, like most people, didn’t care. We should have paid attention. To quote Xtra again:
Some of the officers had removed the badges from their hats so they couldn’t be identified.
Does this sound familiar?
We wouldn’t know as much as we do about what happened if it weren’t for two things. First, Toronto had it’s own gay newspaper, The Body Politic. Second, a film makers had been following George Hislop’s run for a seat on city council, and when the raids occurred proceeded to shoot more film, chronicling the raids as well.
In spite of calls for an independent inquiry with subpoena powers, none was every called. Some of the players, such as Julian Fantino, suspiciously quickly left the Toronto area.
Meanwhile us straights just didn’t get what was going on.
For those who have grown up in the last thirty years, the attitudes of those my age and older is shocking. To many of us who lived through that time, are attitudes shock us.
Because we were wrong. Dead wrong. We were a bunch of narrow minded idiots to put it bluntly. And some of use still are idiots. I know several people who regard gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered people as less than human. I know several people who would deny gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered people the rights that us straight folks have, and that is wrong on so many levels.
If you had have asked me in 1981 if I knew or had ever met anyone who was gay, I would have told you no. And I would have been wrong. Those who protested after the bath house raids in Toronto were only a small minority of the gay community. A lot of people were living double lives, hiding what they were, from people like myself, who were prejudiced against them.
This article, is in part an apology, for the way I used to think. It took me a long time to change. That it took so long isn’t something I’m proud of. That I did manage to change, against everything my parents taught me, I am proud of.
But there’s others who haven’t changed, who still hold to the prejudices of their childhoods. South of the border, we are seeing prejudice rising to levels that would have been unthinkable 15-20 years ago.
Luckily things worked out differently in Canada. But that only happened because a certain percentage of the gay community were willing to fight for their rights. And by products of the gay community’s fight include enhanced rights for common law spouses, enhanced rights for children in a divorce, enhanced rights for those dealing with the police, and many other things, some of which are small, but all of which are valuable.
So those people who fought have my thanks, and should have the thanks of every Canadian citizen.
Saturday February 5, 2011