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Capital Pride’s WinterPride theme perpetuates the myth that homosexual acts were decriminalized in the 1969 Criminal Code reform

For Immediate Release
February 8, 2019
Media contact: Tom Hooper (thooper@yorku.ca), Gary Kinsman (gkinsman@laurentian.ca)

The organizing committee for Anti-69 has learned that the theme for Capital Pride’s WinterPride from Feb. 6-Feb. 10th, 2019 will be a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalization of homosexual acts in Canada. Anti-69 is a conference taking place from March 23-24 at Carleton University, it brings together activists and academics to deconstruct the mythologies of the 1969 Criminal Code reform.

While Anti-69 welcomes the expansion of Capital Pride into Winterlude, there are problems with the WinterPride theme. Lara Karaian, one of the conference organizers and criminologist at Carleton University, stated “the mythology perpetuated by the WinterPride theme misleads people as to the nature and significance of the 1969 reform and eclipses and obscures Ottawa’s LGBTQ2+ history, including both the legal and police repression and the queer community’s resistance to this.”

According to Karaian, the reforms did not dislodge legal notions of indecency and obscenity that were used against LGBTQ2+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Two Spirit and more) people, not only in bawdy house charges throughout the 1970s and 1980s, but also the censorship of queer publications and bookstores. This included The Body Politic, Little Sister’s bookstore in Vancouver, and Glad Day in Toronto. Karaian stated, “Unfortunately, the 69 reform actually had little to do with achieving LGBTQ2+ rights. In fact, two years later in August 1971 the first cross-country demonstration for lesbian and gay rights on Parliament Hill, now known as the We Demand demonstration, was explicitly directed against the limitations of the 69 criminal code reform."

In Ottawa, the limitations of the 69 reform had devastating consequences. “The 69 reform did nothing to lesson the national security purge campaigns in the public service and military with thousands of people being purged and put under surveillance in the 1970s and 1980s. The official military purge campaign did not end until 1992,” said Gary Kinsman, another spokesperson for Anti-69 and a gay historian.

Kinsman also noted that in the debates in the House of Commons “the main argument used by supporters of reform was that people who committed homosexual acts in ‘private’ were not criminals but were instead ‘mentally ill’ and should be under a psychiatrists, psychologists or doctor’s care. This is not an argument used by people supporting LGBTQ2+ rights.”

“The so-called decriminalization or partial decriminalization of homosexuality in 1969 is based on a myth,” said Anti-69 organizer and historian Tom Hooper. “No offenses were repealed in 1969,” Hooper continued. “Instead, the Liberal government of Pierre Elliott Trudeau added an ‘exception clause’ for the offences of gross indecency and buggery. They would no longer be crimes if committed in private between only two adults aged 21 and over.” This was based on a discriminatory age of consent based on the myth that male adolescents and young men needed extra legal protection from ‘homosexual advances.’ Meanwhile the age of consent for most heterosexual sex was then set at 14.

In 1975 in Ottawa 18 men were charged with various offences including gross indecency and buggery for consensual sexual encounters with other males ranging in age from 16 to 21. “Central to these charges was the higher age of consent set for gross indecency and buggery in the 69 reform. The police released the names and identities of those charged to the media which then publicly released this information” stated Kinsman. Kinsman went on that “one of the men charged, Warren Zufelt, a 34-year-old public servant, after his first court appearance on a charge of gross indecency, climbed to the 13th floor of his apartment building and jumped to his death.”. Gays of Ottawa (GO) held rallies protesting Zufelt’s death, police persecution of gays, biased media reporting and the printing of the names of those charged and called for a uniform age of consent for all sexual acts. GO argued that anti-gay discrimination, the police and the media had killed Zufelt.

Given its use in Ottawa it is important to remember that “the 69-reform left intact the infamous bawdy house law,” said Hooper. “The ‘acts of indecency’ section of the bawdy house law was used in a raid on the Club Baths in Ottawa as part of the ‘clean-up’ campaign before the 1976 Montreal Olympics.” This led to the arrest of 27 men under the bawdy house laws with two charged for gross indecency for consensual sexual activity behind cubicle doors. “As in Montreal and Toronto police refused the master key and entered rooms by smashing in doors. They also seized the club membership list, securing more than 3,000 names” Hooper adds. In response GO organized a media conference and demonstration and most of the men were finally acquitted in 1977.

“Criminal charges against LGBTQ2+ people not only continued after 1969, they escalated. Mass arrests took place in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, and Edmonton, among others,” said Hooper. “Gross Indecency and buggery were not the only offences used to criminalize LGBTQ2+ people for consensual homosexual sex and trans gender expression.” (See Chart: Bathhouse Raids in Canada, 1968-2004).

Hooper also made other connections to this reform, “celebrating 1969 obscures the history of colonialism and the erasure of Indigenous sovereignty and Two-Spirit identities. This so-called decriminalization was directly linked to the policy of assimilation in the 1969 White Paper. This was all part of Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s ‘Just Society.’”

In their theme statement Capital Pride acknowledges that there is still a lot to be done, and Anti-69 agrees. They specifically note the continuing criminalization of consensual sexual activities, the blood ban against men and trans women for engaging in same-sex sexual activities; the continuing use of conversion therapy, that certain powerful voices “trying to instill homophobic and transphobic policies” are being heard and they call on people to take to the streets “continuing the fight for full equality in Canada and around the world.” The Anti-69 organizing committee agrees, which is why we argue against perpetuating this myth that homosexual acts were partially decriminalized in 1969.

Speakers at Anti-69 include: Christo Aivalis, Beverly Bain, Cheri DiNovo, OmiSoore Dryden, Richard Fung, Tom Hooper, Lara Karaian, Punam Khosla, Gary Kinsman, Robert Leckey, Tim McCaskell, Karen Pearlston, Judy Rebick, Christabelle Sethna, and Rinaldo Wallcott. Sessions will address: 1969 101, Critique’s of Trudeau’s ‘Just Society,’ The White Paper and Settler Colonialism, Sex Work, Reproductive Justice, Early Activism and “We Demand,” Sex, Crime and the Law, Queer Activist History, Activism Then and Now and more. There will be an Anti-69 video program including a showing of Forbidden Love.

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