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An Extensive (But not Cumulative) Timeline of the Gay Rights Movement

As this month is Pride Month, it is important that we celebrate the achievements, resilience, self-acceptance and legal rights of the LGBTQ2IA+ community here in North America. Without a doubt, LGBTQ2IA+ individuals and relationships date back to ancient civilizations; and sexual minorities have occurred across all cultures. However, although these relationships and identities have been around for a very long time, societal attitudes haven't always been accepting. Throughout history, LGBT2IA+ individuals have and continue to face oppression due to transphobic and homophobic attitudes still present in today's society. It is definitely arguable that gender roles and heterosexism are socially constructed ideals, along with the concept of binarism. It is important to recognize and respect the rights of all human beings, regardless of whether their gender or sexual identity falls outside of society's "norm". Let's go over an extensive history of the Gay Rights Movement here in North America... But first, here are some facts about the LGBTQ2IA+ population.

-LGBTQ2IA+ individuals make up approximately 13% of the Canadian population

-"54% of LGBT respondents have not come out to their work colleagues, and 45% have not come out to their classmates"

-"51% percent of binary trans individuals, 44% of non-binary trans individuals, 38% of asexuals, 35% of bisexuals and 35% of pansexuals say their family did not believe them or ignored the information when they came out"

-3/4 LGBTQ2IA+ respondents say they have experienced bullying, threats or hurtful or derogatory comments, including 60% at school, 33% at work and, surprisingly, 20% within LGBTQ2IA+ settings

-40% of LGBTQ2IA+ respondents reported they had experienced discrimination and in 40% of those cases it happened in a work setting

-individuals of the LGBTQ2IA+ community who are non-Caucasian face even more challenges due to their intersectional identity

-In Samoan tribes the "Faʻafafine" are identified as a third gender of people, as well as the "Bakla Bayot" peoples of the Philippines, the "Muxes" of the Zapotec people of Oaxaca, etc.

Before we get started, evidence of LGBTQ2IA+ identities and relationships date back to well before the 14th century and are depicted throughout international historical art and documents. It is evident that individuals who did not identify as heterosexual and cisgender have existed since humans have existed. The following is only a brief more recent history of the LGBTQ2IA+ community throughout society and will mainly focus on occurrences in North America.

Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep of Ancient Egypt

14th Century

Historical rumours and evidence exist pertaining to King Henry II and his affair with Piers Gaveston.

"An 1872 painting by English artist Marcus Stone shows Edward II cavorting with Gaveston while nobles and courtiers look on with concern"

16th Century

LGBTQ2IA+ individuals are identified in parts of England through out literary texts and in 1553 the Buggary Act criminalized gay relationships between men

17th Century

Same-sex relationships, trans and non-binary identities are documented in parts of Isreal, Ancient Greece, Albania, Afghanistan, Kenya, North America, England, etc. In North American Indigenous communities, Two-Spirited individuals are recognized as having both the spirit of a male and female and are highly respected and looked up to in their communities. "Turtle Island: Prior to the European colonization of Canada, the Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island recognized three to five genders, which included, but was not limited to, men, women, two-spirited men, two-spirited women, and trans people. The words used to describe these individuals were as diverse as the languages spoken across the continent. Even today, Two-Spirit people play an integral role in Indigenous culture, as well-renowned healers, teachers, and visionaries."

“Each tribe has their own specific term, but there was a need for a universal term that the general population could understand. The Navajo refer to two spirits as nádleehí (one who is transformed); among the Lakota is winkté (indicative of a male who has a compulsion to behave as a female), niizh manidoowag (two spirit); in Ojibwe, hemaneh (half man, half woman), to name a few.”

A postcard of Two-Spirited Warrior Osh-Tisch, (Left) Crow 1854-1929, and another Crow woman thought to be her wife (Right). Osh-Tisch used the word baté to identify herself, which "is a Crow word referring to a person assigned male at birth who is a woman."

Photograph of a Two-Spirited Navajo couple that was taken in 1866, now present in the Museum of New Mexico

17th Century

In 1648, "a gay military drummer is sentenced to death by local priests in New France. After an intervention by Jesuits, his life is spared on the condition that he accept the role of New France’s permanent executioner. It is suspected that because he was the only one put on trial, his partner may have been an Indigenous man who was not subject to French religious law."

18th Century

Esther Brandeau, a Jewish woman arrives in Canada in 1737 and causes a large scandal in Quebec City.

"She was born in France in 1718 and was able to come to the New World only because she disguised herself as a young boy. She named herself Jaques la Frague and became a well-liked apprentice on her ship and in the area of present day Quebec. Soon, however, Esther's mask was removed and both her gender and religion were revealed.

As the lone Jew in the country, authorities in "New France" arrested her and attempted to convert her to Christianity. Esther was adamant in her refusal to convert. She wanted to live in Canada as a free citizen, but she also wanted to remain Jewish. The new government could not approve of her religion, and after a few years of correspondence with authorities in France, she was finally sent back to her home in La Rochelle."

19th Century

1838, George Herchmer Markland, a member of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada, is forced to be removed from his seat after allegedly engaging in sexual relations with other men.

In 1841, The Canadian Criminal Code imposes the death penalty for all persons engaging in same-sex sexual relationships. In 1842, "Patrick Kelly and Samuel Moore become Canada’s first men convicted of “homosexual sex between two consenting adults” (Lyons, 2016, para. 5). Convicted of sodomy, which, in Canada, carried a death sentence until 1869, the men were sentenced to life imprisonment; both later released regardless of the sentence."

1869: Buggery is no longer punishable by death in Canada, replaced instead by a maximum punishment of life in prison.

20th Century

In the 1950s, LGBTQ2IA+ individuals were seen as a threat to security and were discharged from the Canadian Army if they came out, and in 1953 the Immigrant Act was was also amended to prohibit LGBTQ2IA+ individuals from entering Canada.

1963: "RCMP Directorate of Security and Intelligence’s A-3 unit, which had the goal of finding and removing all homosexuals from law enforcement and government, created a map with red dots where all alleged residences and frequent visitations of homosexuals. Map was disposed of, as it was filled with red ink; two larger maps were used and had the same outcome, therefore mapping ended. (Revolvy, n.d.)"

1964: "Canada’s first “gay-positive” organization, “ASK”, and first gay magazines: ASK Newsletter (Vancouver) and Gay (Gay publishing Company of Toronto)"

1968: "Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau releases a bill to reform the Canadian Criminal Code that loosens the reins on issues such as homosexuality, abortion, and divorce. Trudeau makes a statement that there is “no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation"."

Stonewall Inn Raid, 1969

1969: New York police raid the Stonewall Inn, a drag and gay bar in lower Manhattan. New York Police arrest 13 individuals, singling out trans individuals as "masquerading" as a member of the opposite sex was considered a crime. This sparks the first riots on June 28th, 1969, The Stonewall Riots, which catapulted the Gay Rights Movement. The riots were said to have been started by LGBTQ2IA+ homeless youth, who saw the Stonewall Inn as the only safe place for them to go. At the front lines of the movement were Marsha P. Johnson, a black gay trans woman who wanted to put an end to police brutality and transphobia and Sylvia Rivera, a Latin American transgender activist who sought the same rights. "Stormé Delarvarie, a biracial lesbian from Louisiana, was outside and was shoved into the back of a squad car after being beaten over the head by a police helmet. She shouted to onlookers outside, “Why don’t you do something?”. The crowd responded to her call and jumped to defend those who were still inside." It is rumored that after resisting arrest, both Marsha and Sylvia threw the first bottle (brick or stone), at New York police, which further lead to the first riot/parade in New York city.

Marsha P. Johnson (Left) and Sylvia Rivera leading a protest at New York City Hall, 1973

1970: "Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera begin the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or STAR, and opened a house to shelter homeless LGBT youth — the first shelter of its kind in the country."

1971: "On August 28, roughly 100 people from Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and the surrounding areas gathered in the pouring rain at Parliament Hill for Canada’s First Gay Liberation Protest and March. They presented a petition to the government with a list of ten demands for equal rights and protections.Simultaneously, another much smaller group of roughly twenty gay activists demonstrated at Robson Square in Vancouver."

1973: "The Canadian Gay Liberation Movement Archives are launched. Homosexuality is removed from the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM); it is no longer listed as an illness or a disease by 1974. Gender Identity Disorder is replaced by Gender Dysphoria in the DSM in 2013, which was a shift away from the Zucker approach, to the Meinvale approach, which is more about supporting people, rather than “correcting."

1975: "The Aquarius bathhouse in Montreal is firebombed. The perpetrators are never found or arrested. Three customers die in the resulting fire; two of them are buried in anonymous graves because their bodies are never identified or claimed by their families."


"John Damien, an Ontario Racing Commission official with 20 years experience, is told to resign because of his sexual orientation. He states: “I won’t resign. I’ve done nothing wrong. Lots of gay people work for the government and sex doesn’t interfere with their work, or with mine…. I will never resign.” He is later fired, and goes on to fight a highly publicized court battle to regain his job. Unfortunately, he is unsuccessful.

1976: Police crackdowns against gay bars in Montreal's Stanley Street gay village, widely perceived as mayor Jean Drapeau's attempts to "clean up" the city in advance of the 1976 Summer Olympics, lead to riots.

1976: The Lesbian Organization of Toronto (LOOT) is formed by a group of activists. The purpose of LOOT is to provide lesbians and feminists a safe space for community, support, culture, and politics. LOOT opens a community safe house in 1977, but the organization and its community house close on May 1, 1980.

1977: Thanks to protests in reaction to the police raiding of two gay establishments in Montréal, Québec becomes the second jurisdiction in the world to pass a law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, behind only Denmark.

1978: Buddies in Bad Times, Canada’s oldest theatre company for LGBTQ+ theatre, is launched by Matt Walsh, Jerry Ciccoritti, and Sky Gilbert.

1979: In the BC provincial election, Robert Douglas Cook becomes the first electoral candidate in Canada that is openly gay.

1979: Montréal and Vancouver host their first official Pride march, the first cities in Canada to do so.

1981: Four bathhouses in Toronto are raided by the Toronto Police Service in Operation Soap. 286 People are arrested. The event is now considered one of the crucial turning points in Canadian LGBT history, as an unprecedented community mobilization — taking place to protest police conduct. One of the protest marches during this mobilization is now generally recognized as the first Toronto Pride event. Similar raids also occur in Montréal and Edmonton throughout the year.

1981: The US Centers for Disease Control receive reports of unusually high rates of rare diseases in young gay men. It is initially referred to as GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), but is later renamed AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).

1984: Montréal bathhouse Chez Bud’s is raided by police. Although homosexuality had been legalized 15 years earlier, many of the 122 people arrested were accused of the vague, still-existing charge of gross indecency. 1985: Activists form the Aids Committee of Ottawa with the goal of advocating and educating for what is seen as a gay men’s health crisis, within an indifferent society. 1985: Health Canada introduces a new policy on donor deferral, banning men who have sex with men from donating blood for life. 1988: A group of activists hold a public meeting at a Toronto high school, demanding better health care and access to medication for those living with HIV. This activist group becomes known as AIDS Action Now! (AAN), which continues to do street demonstrations and direct political action used by the LGBTQ+ community in the aftermath of the bathhouse raids. 1988: Svend Robinson becomes Canada's first elected Member of Parliament to come out as gay. 1990: The World Health Organization (WHO) removes homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), no longer classifying it as a mental disorder. 1990: The term Two Spirit is coined at the third annual intertribal Native American/First Nations Gay and Lesbian Conference in Winnipeg. The term allows Indigenous LGBTQ+ folks to reject other English terms that impose the Western views of gender and sexuality on FNMI people.

1990: Montréal’s Sex Garage loft party is raided and shut down by two dozen police officers. Confrontations escalated to violence and many attendees and workers were seriously beaten."

1990: "The term Two Spirit is coined at the third annual intertribal Native American/First Nations Gay and Lesbian Conference in Winnipeg. The term allows Indigenous LGBTQ+ folks to reject other English terms that impose the Western views of gender and sexuality on FNMI people." 1991: "Delwin Vriend, an employee at a private Christian college in Edmonton, is fired for being gay. He files a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, but the response is that since sexual orientation is not included in the Charter, Vriend has no case. He takes the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, where it is ruled that sexual orientation should be “read in” to Section 15, or included, in future cases." 1992: There is a Federal Court hearing that rules, lifting the ban on gays and lesbians in military.

1994: "Bill 167, Bob Rae’s government proposes legislation extending spousal benefits to same-sex couples, but it was defeated in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. 1995: Canada rules that freedom from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation be a protected right and in 1998, Sexual Orientation is added to the Canadian Charter. 1998: Glen Murray is elected mayor of Winnipeg, thus becoming the first openly gay mayor of Canada, and even North America, in a major city. 1998: Blockorama is created by Blackness Yes!, an organization formed by a collective who saw a need for Black and Caribbean representation at Pride. Blockorama is a space at Pride Toronto that showcases Black queer and trans history and creativity through musical performances and dance. 1999: George Smitherman is elected into the Ontario provincial election, thus becoming the first openly gay MPP in Canada."

21st Century

2003: the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the ruling, and Michael Leshner and Michael Stark became the first same-sex couple to marry in Canada.

"Michael Stark, left, and Michael Leshner celebrate with champagne after their marriage in Superior Court in Toronto on June 10, 2003. The couple had been together for 22 years and were finally allowed to marry following a court ruling."

2005: Bill C-38 became federal law, making Canada the fourth country in the world to allow same-sex marriage.

Today Individuals of the LGBTQ2IA+ community are granted the same rights as cisgender and heterosexual individuals in Canada, but are still faced with discrimination, higher rates of suicide and mental health challenges, higher rates of homelessness, higher rates of sexual violence and hate crimes, etc. After being surveyed, 91.8% of Canadians reported they would be comfortable if their next-door neighbour was gay, lesbian or bisexual, and 87.6 per cent said they would be “comfortable” if a neighbour was a transgender person. However, this does not mean that transphobic and homophobic attitudes are close to being eradicated. In many countries, individuals of the LGBTQ2IA+ community are still criminalized or punished by death due to their gender or sexual identity. Countries such as Russia, are taking steps backwards as Putin has tried to ban same-sex marriage, ban transgender people from obtaining a driver`s license and even attempted to adopt the Gay Propaganda law in 2013.

We still have a very long way to go, and as a species we should feel obligated to coexist and respect one-another regardless of their sexual or gender identity. This is imperative, as transphobia and homophobia breeds hatred, and can seriously harm an individual`s freedom and well-being. Stay posted this month for more blogs pertaining to Pride Month as well as Indigenous History Month. I`ll leave you with a quote by Marsha P. Johnson,

"History isn't something you look back at and say it was inevitable, it happens because people make decisions that are sometimes very impulsive and of the moment, but those moments are cumulative realities."

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