Updated: Oct 20, 2022
LGBTQIA+ History Month began a little over two months ago, on October 1st, and ended on October 31. It’s celebrated in Australia, Hungary, the United Kingdom, the United States, Ireland, and Canada. LGBT History Month was created by American teacher Rodney Wilson in 1994. It’s meant to coincide with national coming out day, on October 11th.
LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. However, the most commonly used abbreviation of the community is LGBTQ+ (the Q stands for queer). At the time of the creation of this history month, all letters and numbers after “T” had not yet been added; hence the simple reason we call it LGBT History Month and not LGBTQQIP2SAA History Month.
To observe this month and to celebrate how far we’ve come in the past 50 years, here’s a quick rundown of LGBT History in Canada.
1969: Pierre Trudeau and the Canadian government decriminalizes same-sex relations and relationships.
Two years prior, Pierre Trudeau had first proposed the decriminalization of same-sex activity. However it wasn’t until two years later that the Criminal Law Amendment Act was created. Otherwise known as Bill C-150, this act was formally approved by the monarchy on June 27th of that year.
1977: Quebec becomes the first province to include sexual orientation in its human rights code.
In 1977, Quebec amended its provincial charter of human rights to include sexual orientation under prohibited grounds for discrimination.
1977-1978: Canada amends its immigration act.
Over those two years, Canada went through the process of removing LGBTQ+ immigrants from its list of inadmissible classes. Gay men and lesbian women were now allowed to immigrate or emigrate to Canada.
1979: First pride festivals held in Canada.
Montreal and Vancouver held the very first pride marches and festivals in Canada. Nowadays, the entire month of June is known as Pride Month.
1981: Operation Soap
On February 5, 1981, police officers raided 4 bathhouses in Toronto. They arrested over 300 gay men on charges of indecency. The next night, over 3,000 people march in downtown Toronto to protest the arrests. This later becomes known as “Canada’s Stonewall”.
The Canadian-English term “2 spirit” is coined to refer to First Nations people who identify outside of the gender binary. While most First Nations cultures would have their own term in their native languages for it, 1990 marked its first use in the English language.
1992: B.C. includes sexual orientation in its human rights code.
British Columbia amended its human rights code to include sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination. They also extended workplace medical benefits to include same-sex partners of government employees.
1993: Refugees now allowed to apply based on sexual orientation.
On June 30 of that year, the Federal Court ruled that gays and lesbians would be allowed to apply for refugee status if they were facing persecution for their sexual orientation in their own country.
1995: Sexual orientation officially added to Canadian charter.
The Supreme Court ruled to add sexual orientation onto the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on May 25, 1995. It was included under Section 15, which guarantees “the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination”.
2005: The Civil Marriage Act
On July 20th, 2005, Bill C-38 became federal law. It gave same-sex couples the legal right to marry.
2017: Gender Identity and Expression
Bill C-16 was passed on June 19th of that year. It changed both the Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include gender identity and gender expression. It harshened hate speech punishments, illegalized discrimination on the basis of gender and gender orientation, and made it a hate crime to target transgender individuals.
2017: Trudeau apologizes for the treatment of LGBTQ+ people in Canada.
In November of 2017, PM Justin Trudeau apologized for Canada’s treatment of LGBTQ+ people in the past.
So far, this timeline has really only included the more progressive, positive parts of Canada’s history. But we must also acknowledge the darker side of Canada’s queer history.
There was, for example the Fruit Machine, also known as the “gay test”, used in the 1950s and 1960s to expose and arrest gay men. The RCMP’s files – over 9,000 of them in total – on those they suspected to be gay. The countless arrests, protests, riots, and discriminatory bills.
Even now, it’s incredibly important to acknowledge the dangers that the LGBTQ+ community faced in the past, and continue to face today. Conversion therapy, a process in which organizations target vulnerable youth in an attempt to forcefully change their sexual or gender orientation, is still legal in several provinces – including British Columbia. In a national survey studying homophobia in secondary schools, researchers found that 74% of trans students have been verbally harassed regarding their identity; 21% of LGBTQ+ students reported being physically harassed due to their orientation; 64% of LGBTQ+ students feel unsafe and uncomfortable at school.
Canada has certainly come a long way in the past 50 years. But we still have a long way to go. LGBT+ History Month is a way to remember what the people before us have gone through to get to this juncture. It’s a way to understand how far we still have to go to achieve the diversity, equity, and inclusion that all people deserve. And most importantly, it’s a reminder of the responsibility we must shoulder to make this world a better place – for all of us.