Historical perspective: 2SLGBTQIA+ rights in Canada

The history of 2SLGBTQIA+ rights is illustrated by its richness and the resilience of its protagonists. Pride Month, taking place every year in June, is more than an opportunity to celebrate those communities, it’s also a call to action to defend the rights of 2SLGBTQIA+ people. In the light of our production Michel(le), by Joey Lespérance, we’d like to take a historical look at the fight of 2SLGBTQIA+ communities for their rights.

Historically, the pressure exerted by Great Britain on Canada led to extremely repressive laws firmly condemning homosexuality. The Criminal Code of Canada (1892) made sexual intercourse between men (“gross indecency”, including the “crime of sodomy”) punishable by the death penalty, followed by life imprisonment, until 1954. It was amended in 1953 to include women.

However, long before the colonization of Canada, indigenous peoples lived in respect of and honored gender diversity and the Two-Spirit Beings. The ability to embrace the perspectives of different genders (indigenous peoples distinguished between up to five) was considered a divine blessing.

A famous emblem is Osch-Tisch, a male-born Crow warrior who lived her life as a woman. Highly respected in the community, Osch-Tisch occupied social roles traditionally assigned to women as well as men: shaman, medicine leader, warrior. In 1890, Osh-Tisch was imprisoned by an agent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and forced to take on a male role, involving cutting her hair, wearing men’s clothes, or performing only “male” tasks. Her plight caused such an outcry in the Crow Nation that the government had to fire the agent.

Osh-Tisch was one of the last Baté people to exist before the Crow genocide committed by the colonizers. A Baté is a person born with a body that many European cultures of the time designated as male, and who is later discovered to be female.

 

  • 1960s : The Everett Klippert Case
    Convicted of 18 counts of “gross indecency”, the man’s de facto life sentence sparked an outcry in 1967. This movement paved the way for the decriminalization of homosexuality, with Bill C-150, enacted on May 14, 1969.

 

  • 1971: First gay rights demonstrations in Canada
    The Gay Alliance Toward Equality (GATE) is founded in Vancouver

 

  • 1972: First Gay Pride celebration in Toronto

 

  • December 15, 1977 
    Quebec becomes the first province to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

 

  • April 1978 
    The ban on homosexual men immigrating to Canada is lifted with the new Immigration Act.

 

  • February 1981 : Operation “Soap”
    A police raid in a Toronto public bathhouse – 300 men are arrested. At the time, such raids were common on the gay scene and justified by a dubious interpretation of the term “bawdy house”.

 

  • February 29, 1988
    Svend Robinson, Member of Parliament for B.C., becomes the first member of the Canadian Parliament to publicly declare his homosexuality.

 

  • 1990: Two-Spirit term proposed in Winnipeg
    The term “Two-Spirit” is the creation of Elder Myra Laramee, and was proposed by activist Albert McLeod and at the Third Annual Intertribal Conference of First Nations Gays and Lesbians of the United States and Canada, held in Winnipeg in 1990.While the terms sometimes vary historically and according to different First Nations cultures, they always refer to characteristics attributed to Two-Spirit people: gender variance, same-sex attraction, spiritual identity and the adoption of specialized work roles. Two-spirit identities have existed in indigenous communities since time immemorial, and underwent enormous repression during the process of colonization.

 

  • November 15, 1992
    Dr. Peter Jespon-Young dies at 35
    An activist in the fight against AIDS, he has helped educate the Canadian public about the disease through his series Dr. Peter Diaries.

 

  • May 25, 1995
    Amendment of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms
    In 1982, Canada adopted its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which would become the foundation for many future decisions in the field of equality. However, it wasn’t until 1995 that the Supreme Court ruled that section 15 of the Charter, which guarantees the “right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination”, should include sexual orientation.

 

  • July 2005
    Same-sex marriage legalized across Canada.

 

  • July 25, 2015
    First official First Nations Pride Parade – the first on-reserve parade of its kind in Canada – held on the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation reserve in Ontario. Local leaders, including Chief Ava Hill, pay tribute to the two-spirited people in their community.

 

  • November 28, 2017
    Justin Trudeau issues an official apology for the discrimination practiced or tolerated by the federal government against the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. A compensation of $145 million, including $110 million for civil servants whose careers suffered as a result of these discriminatory acts, is graanted.

 

  • December 8, 2021
    Conversion therapies are banned in Canada. The law allows a victim to file a complaint retroactively.

 


Michel(le) is playing at Studio 16 in Vancouver from May 29 to June 8, 2024. Inspired by autobiography, the show traces the journey of two queer siblings growing up in working-class Quebec in the ’70s, who have to find their own way: one becomes an actor in Vancouver, the other shines on the Montreal drag scene before becoming the woman she always felt she could be. Don’t wait any longer to get your tickets!

604.736.2616
info@seizieme.ca

226-1555, West 7th avenue
Vancouver, BC. V6J 1S1

We are fortunate to live, create and gather on the traditional and ancestral unceded lands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish) and səl̓ilw̓ ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations

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