Heritage plaque honours Ontario's first gay and lesbian rights group

Sub-title: 
U of T Homophile Association formed 42 years ago
Author: 
April Kemick

The University of Toronto Homophile Association, the province’s first group to rally around lesbian and gay rights, was honoured yesterday at a ceremony that marked their historic formation in 1969.

Officials from U of T, the Ontario Heritage Trust (OHT) and three levels of government commemorated the historic group’s formation by unveiling a provincial plaque at University College – the site of the U of T Homophile Association’s first meeting 42 years ago.

“The U of T has been a proud supporter of the proposal to install this plaque at the heart of our founding campus,” said President David Naylor. “We are also proud of the decades-long history of campus LGBT advocacy that has made the university a better place.”

The plaque – sponsored by U of T’s Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies and the Ontario Heritage Trust – is Ontario’s first LGBT-related provincial plaque. It was unveiled at a ceremony at East Hall in University College and will later be placed on the east side of the college.

The U of T Homophile Association, which was Canada’s first university-based lesbian/gay organization, set the stage for similar groups to form at other Ontario universities in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The pioneering group sponsored lectures from prominent international activists, challenged discrimination against gays and lesbians in Canada’s public service, protested police surveillance in Toronto and highlighted prejudice in the media.

Early members helped to shape activism across Ontario and in Canada. Jearld Moldenhauer established Glad Day Bookshop, the country’s first to specialize in lesbian and gay literature, and helped form The Body Politic, a magazine with international significance. The group’s first chair – Charlie Hill –became a well-known community organizer and activist in Toronto and Ottawa, and Ian Young, another key organizer, published a groundbreaking book of gay poetry, Year of the Quiet Sun.

The group disbanded in 1973, but they acted as a prototype for lesbian, gay and transgender activism across the country and lent momentum to the equality movement.

As Bonham Centre director Brenda Cossman pointed out, “Honouring queer history is essential:  it reminds all of us that university campuses play crucial roles in nurturing change, and that our ability to do the kind of work we do in the present comes from generations of courageous advocacy in the past.”

The idea to mark the establishment of the U of T Homophile Association came from a working group at the university’s Bonham Centre, who then submitted the proposal to the OHT.