Take a stroll through Canada’s
queer rights movement
As we celebrate this year’s Pride, it’s important to remind ourselves of Canada’s queer history and honour those who pioneered the way and fought for the freedom to love who you love.
To help spread the word of Canada’s historical queer rights movement, we’ve taken over the street banners on West Georgia and Howe Street to showcase 15 important milestones. These events helped alter Canada’s attitude towards the queer community and served as a pivotal step in changing the laws.
Below is a list of the 15 milestones that we highlight on the street banners with more information and links to their source.
Thank you to Vancouver Pride Society and Forbidden Vancouver Tours for their collaboration and accuracy of these milestones.
Note: Due to the limited number of street banners, we could not highlight all of the crucial milestones in the queer rights movement.
The beer parlour in the basement of the Hotel Vancouver was one of the earliest downtown underground hangouts for the queer community. The parlour was separated into two sections: ladies and escorts and men. The male-only side was exclusively gay. The parlour’s capacity was roughly 50-60 people, and it was usually full by 6 pm on a Friday or Saturday. (Source: Xtra Magazine)
AUG 18, 1958
On this date, Canadian drag queen and gay rights activist ted northe and four others arranged one of the earliest gay rights protests on the steps of the Vancouver Courthouse. Inspired by the Black civil rights movement in the United States, ted was dressed in drag and held a sign that read, “I am a human being.” The activists were unable to protest for long before police came to the scene. (Source: The Star)
AUG 1, 1973
The Gay Alliance Toward Equality (GATE) organized one of Vancouver’s earliest gay celebrations in Ceperley Park (near Second Beach in Stanley Park) in the form of a picnic and art exhibition. At the same time, multiple cities across Canada were hosting their own Pride celebrations. (Source: Inside Vancouver)
FEB 11, 1974
One of Canada’s first known same-sex marriages took place between Chris Vogel and Richard North by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Winnipeg; however, the ceremony was later declared legally void. Chris and Richard have been fighting for decades for their marriage to be registered by the province of Manitoba and recently lost another legal battle on June 1, 2021. (Source: CBC News)
The Quadra, at 1055 Homer Street, became Vancouver’s first (and to this day, only) lesbian-owned and lesbian-orientated bar. The bar hosted male drag shows, which they called the Quadra Players. The bar was co-owned by Suzan Krieger and Heather Farquhar and unfortunately closed after 4 years. (Source: The Georgia Straight)
FEB 5, 1981
Toronto Metropolitan Police raided four bathhouses (The Barracks, The Club, Richmond Street Health Emporium, and Roman II Health and Recreation Spa) in downtown Toronto in a project called Operation Soap. Roughly 200 police officers made coordinated raids in the bathhouses and arrested 286 men. The men were subjected to excessive force and verbally abused. It is still the single largest arrest of gay men in Canada’s history, but the event is considered a pivotal point in Canada’s queer rights movement. (Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia)
JUL 27, 1990
The term two-spirit was created at the Indigenous lesbian and gay international gathering in Winnipeg. It was coined to distinguish the Native American and First Nations communities from non-Native peoples. It also served as a replacement for the offensive name, berdache. It’s important to note that the term two-spirited is an umbrella term that covers multiple genders and sexual identities within Native American and First Nation cultures, and many communities criticize the name due to its western implication that gender, sex, and sexuality are binaries. (Source: The Encyclopedia of Gender and Society)
British Columbia became the first province in Canada to allow the adoption of children by same-sex couples. The Adoption Act was approved on July 4, 1996, and the law took effect on November 4, 1996. (Source: Legislative Assembly of British Columbia)
JUL 20, 2005
In 2003, Ontario and British Columbia became the first two provinces to legalize same-sex marriage. On July 20, 2005, the Civil Marriage Act was made law making same-sex marriage legal across Canada. Canada then became the fourth country in the world to make same-sex marriage legal. (Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia)
FEB 11, 2013
Kathleen Wynne became the 25th Premier of Ontario and the first female and first openly gay Canadian Premier. The first openly gay MP was Svend Robinson, who came out in 1988. (Source: The Georgia Straight)
JUL 3, 2016
One year after the Orlando massacre at Pulse Nightclub, which saw the killing of 49 people, Justin Trudeau walked in Toronto’s Pride parade and became the first sitting Prime Minister of Canada ever to attend a Pride event. (Source: CTV News)
JUL 3, 2016
The Black Lives Matter Toronto group were the honourary guests of Toronto’s Pride parade. Midway through the event, the group held a sit-in, blocking the parade from moving any further for 30 minutes. The Black Lives Matter group refused to move until Pride director Mathieu Chantelois signed a document agreeing to the group’s demands, including the removal of uniformed police from future parades and more representation within the Pride staff. (Source: CBC News)
MAY 17, 2016
The Canadian government introduced Bill C-16, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, which added the words “gender identity or expression.” The bill protects the rights of transgender or gender-diverse Canadians by including them under the human rights and hate crime laws. (Source: CBC News)
NOV 5, 2017
Tres-Saint-Redempteur in Quebec elected Julie Lemieux in what is believed to be Canada’s first openly transgender mayor and the first female mayor in the municipality 137-year history. (Source: CTV News)
JUN 5, 2018
Vancouver became the first Canadian city to ban the practice of conversion therapy. The city’s council voted unanimously to ban businesses from offering the practice. On June 22, 2021, a bill was passed in the House of Commons to ban the practice federally. (Source: The Georgia Straight & Canada.ca)