Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gays are Subversive

At least that's what Toronto Police thought in the 1980s:
Toronto police spied on gay community in 1980s: report
A surveillance report leaked to CBC News details how Det. Garry Carter went undercover in the community, spying on bathhouse operators, attending conventions in Alberta and tracking gay candidates running for city council.

The detective even reported on how gay activists questioned the police budgets.

Coun. Kyle Rae, a vocal gay rights advocate, said the report confirms what many in the community had long suspected.

"We were seen as a subversive minority that was worthy of ridicule and violence against us by the police," said Rae. "It's part of the paranoia of the '70s and '80s. It's not appropriate, but I'm not surprised."

See also The Toronto Bathhouse Raids of 1981
It wasn't the first anti-gay police action in Canada's history, but it was the biggest and most brutal. At 11 o'clock the evening of February 5, 1981, 150 plainclothes and uniformed police officers staged violent raids on four of Toronto's five gay bathhouses and arrested almost 300 men.


TomCat said...

I remember the 1960s in New York City, when being gay was illegal. The police would raid gay bars, haul in the partons, and lock them up, two per cell. Go figure.

Scott said...

The bathhouse raids in Toronto in the early '80s were part of a broader, nation-wide upswing in police attacks, most of them less spectacular than the big raids but still very serious, on queer spaces and queer practices and queer people in that era. There is an interesting analysis that this upsurge in police nastiness actually happened in part in response to the legalization of sex between two men in private in Canada in 1969 -- a kind of systemic "some of your deviance may technically be legal now but we're damn well going to make sure you can't flaunt it" sort of thing. What is also interesting is that the unprecedented community resistance to the raids was reasonably effective in challenging the police crackdown.

(Never Going Back by T. Warner and Regulation of Desire by G. Kinsman are both good sources on the raids and on queer history in Canada more broadly.)

Peter Dodson said...

They were probably gay terrorists.

No seriously - it is diffcult to comprehend how totally ignorant we were and still are. I sometimes just can't believe it.

stageleft said...

Rae is talking about events in the past tense, IMO that's a mistake. Our government, and its' various arms, still sees anything non-mainstream, or acceptable in their sight, as a threat.

Red Jenny said...

I would love to hear if there's any good love stories from that time: "we met in an NYC jail".

Thanks for the book recommendations. I think there's often a backlash that accompanies social change.

The truth is, I can't quite understand why homosexuality makes people feel uncomfortable. I really don't get it. Even if you think it's a sin, why get so much more upset over it than, say, lying (also a sin - a real one, one of the big 10). Who the hell would want to outlaw lying?

You're right in a sense - it's not totally in the past, but I do think there's a growing acceptance. Social change takes time, and as different social movements become acceptable and mainstream, they are seen as less of a threat - they are co-opted. There's still lots to fight for: same sex marriage, among other things, but there has been some improvement.

Artemis said...

Growing acceptance yes - but it all depends on where you're living. A majority of people who identify as same-sex still choose to come out or live their lives as same-sex in communities other than where they grew up in, or in big cities. The acceptance is most definitely still not present in smaller communities sadly enough.

Baby steps.

TomCat said...

RJ, I'm afraid not. The jail was all bars, and metal walls so you could hear everything that happened on the floor. That floor had three units: murderers, gays, and druggies. I was in the druggies, so I knew what was happening, but did not know the people. At 18, I was WAY too homophobic to inquire.