People’s History Project- Queer Issues

In January of 2013, Queen’s undergraduate students elected possibly the first ever transgender or queer executive member of the Alma Mater Society, the student undergraduate union. The winning team of Eril Berkok, TK Pritchard and Peter Green (BGP) campaigned on a platform that included implementing an LGBTQ night at the student nightclub, Alfies. The advancement of LGBTQ awareness and pride was not always a smooth process however. Historically at Queen’s and in Kingston itself, LGBTQ groups have struggled against ignorance and prejudice attitudes for their hard won political victories.

The emergence of the Queen’s Homophile Association (QHA) in 1973 began with a simple letter to the editor of the Queen’s Journal on October 2, 1973. Alluding to the beating of one Kingston student at a local park, the authors of the letter, signed Three Campus Homophiles, called for the establishment of a homophile association in Kingston, to end the “intolerance and insecurity suffered by homosexuals at (Queen’s) university.” Following a string of personal attacks in the form of response letters to the Journal, the QHA was formed by the end of October 1973.  Operating as the only publicly gay organization in Kingston, the QHA served as a safe, supportive social space for students and later on other members from the Kingston community. The presence of the QHA also helped to dispense the popular notion that homosexuality was a mental illness on campus. As one former Queen’s student put it at that time,

{In the late 1960s} there was no way of meeting people except through very

carefully developed social arrangements over time. It was a real eye opener to

have an organization where you could go to and discuss things with people and not

feel that you had to try and figure out, spend weeks figuring out, spend months

figuring out whether this person was gay or not and how to approach them and all

that angle. The people were there, you sat around and talked, and you went out

and had drinks afterwards. It was a real eye-opener and I’m just very glad it came

along at that stage of my life because it made life a lot easier and it certainly confirmed what I’d already decided I was going to do and that was tell everybody I knew I was gay.[1]


By the late 1980’s the QHA now the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Association was firmly established in the Grey House on Queen’s campus. Although safe queer spaces existed in Kingston as early as 1986, with the founding of Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), Kingston itself remained in need of open, public support for queer organizations and events in the city. Thus as early as 1984, efforts were underway to create a Gay and Lesbian Awareness Week, spearheaded by local activists like Nancy Tatham, Francois Lachance and MCC pastor Sue Mabey. Despite gathering signatures for petitions and presenting detailed motions to City council, the Lesbian and Gay Awareness Week Committee were repeatedly rejected in their request to have the City of Kingston recognize one week or even one day in June for gay awareness or pride. The month of June is significant in order to commemorate the New York City Stonewall Riots of 1969, when gay activists took to the street to fight against police brutality. These riots are frequently regarded as the most important catalyst to the modern gay and lesbian movement in North America.

Not deterred by the lack of support from City Council, the committee decided to run Gay and Lesbian Awareness Week anyway. Initially a very small endeavour consisting of only 8 events in 1986, Gay and Lesbian Awareness Week continued to grow with each passing year. In 1990 the first Lesbian and Gay Pride March occurred in Kingston, organized by Nancy Tatham as an accumulation of the newly renamed Gay Pride Week with 50 marchers participating. By 1991 the number of marchers tripled to 150, with Pride week growing in size to 25 total events and over 1000 attendees. The momentum continued and the next year saw the creation of a whole month of events, and the City of Kingston for the first time officially acknowledged Gay Pride Day.

At first early proponents in Pride Week faced enormous risks signing their name onto a public petition, as well as receiving verbal assaults and taunts during the initial events. However through the steadfast commitment of the LGBTQ community, Pride Week has become firmly established and recognized in the City of Kingston. Moreover in 2000, the Reelout film festival was established to promote queer films and social events in Kingston. This festival has grown from a brief three days of film presentations to a full week of film, presentations and socials. At Queen’s the Education on Queer Issues Project (EQuIP) represents the latest successor of the QHA. EQuIP continues to promote awareness and fight against prejudice on queer issues, and also runs Queerintation annually to help accommodate new students at Queen’s. OPIRG Kingston has also proudly supported all of these groups by sponsoring Pride Week, organizing LGBTQ events on campus, creating the Reelout film festival and helping to create the Safe Space program on campus.

copyright Queen's University Positive Space Program 2012
copyright Queen’s University Positive Space Program 2012

Thus while team BGP’s victory in the AMS election was an impressive feat in itself, it was much more remarkable victory for the LGBTQ community. The fact that the creation of a queer positive space was promoted in an election platform, and furthermore was praised as a measure long overdue, speaks volumes to the progression of queer issues in campus.While both the Kingston and Queen’s communities have many accomplishments to be proud of on the issue of LGBTQ awareness, we must always remember that history is not a clear progression of human advancements. Each victory must be preserved and continually fought for, else we risk losing hard won territory. We need only to look at the empty space that was formerly EQuIP’s office in the Grey House to be reminded of this lesson.

-with files from OPIRG Kingston’s Alternative Resource Library

[1] Marney Elizabeth McDiarmid, From Mouth to Mouth: An Oral History of Lesbian and Gays in Kingston from World War II to 1980 (Queen’s University: Kingston 1999) 90

1 thought on “People’s History Project- Queer Issues”

  1. just reading through your Queer Issues article…in which it suggests that the first Pride March was in 1990 (I guess so…if you’re not counting the 10-15 of us who took to Princess Street with a Lesbian and Gay Pride banner in 1989). Further, it was certainly NOT a Gay Pride March–it was definitively a Lesbian and Gay Pride March. Even more important, I was not the sole organizer by any stretch of the imagination–either in 1989 or 1990. (I was heavily involved in LGB awareness/pride organizing from 1986 to 1996; initially w/ Francois Lachance, then a year solo more or less, then w/ Sky Lamothe, then by 1989 with a small cadre of important folk: Steven Maynard, Joy McBride, Patrick Gignac, Johnny Yap, Richard Belzile come to mind immediately…and in the years subsequent there were even more folks.) Please set the record, ahem, straight. Thanks very much. Nancy Tatham Feb 8, 2014

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *