Friday, December 23, 2005

A Brief History of Gay: Canada's First Gay Tabloid, 1964-1966

Gay: Canada's First Gay Tabloid, 1964-1966
David Rayside reviews an important book by Donald W. McLeod called, A Brief History of Gay: Canada's First Gay Tabloid, 1964-1966. Here's an excerpt:
Donald McLeod's new book tells the remarkable story of Canada's first gay tabloid. By doing so, he adds to our collective understanding of the crucial period before the emergence of the modern gay/lesbian liberation movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. McLeod's deep knowledge of historical materials, gleaned in part from the extraordinary collection held at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, has been evident in his earlier work, including that on pioneering activist James Egan.

McLeod reminds us of the repressiveness of the early 1960s. Homosexual activity was still the subject of criminal sanction and uncompromising social prejudice. But he aptly points out, this was also a period in which a few positive glimpses of homosexual existence were being provided to the Canadian mainstream public, some in terms that were by the standards of their time surprisingly neutral or reformist. These openings built on fragments of visibility and political challenge that had surfaced in the decades following the Second World War in Britain, the United States, the Netherlands, and France.

McLeod points out that 1964 was particularly significant in Canada. That year saw the formation of the country's first gay-positive organization (Vancouver's Association for Social Knowledge - ASK), an important novel by Jane Rule (Desert of the Heart), and positive media stories on homosexuality in such publications as Maclean's and the Toronto Telegram. It was in this context that four Toronto men began publishing Canada's first gay periodical, selling out their first five-hundred-copy issue almost immediately. [End Page 521] Two issues later, they were printing two thousand copies, selling at a number of outlets in Toronto and Montreal. Gay was soon expanding into the United States (as Gay International), and quickly outstripping American publications in scale of distribution. By the spring of 1965, its publishers were shipping a remarkable twenty thousand copies across North America and selling about eight thousand.

The magazine's content included light gossip, poetry, fiction, 'physique' photography, and politics. To the extent that it held to a consistent editorial view, it reflected cautious reformism, defending the rights and normalcy of a constituency living in a hostile environment. This was an approach not unlike the temper of political activism that was emerging in a few large American and European cities in the half-decade before the explosion of more confrontational activism. Gay was generally a light version of what McLeod refers to as 'homophile politeness,' intended for a 'mainstream' gay audience, but it had stories on Toronto police raids on bars, and on the calls for social and political change that were beginning to surface.

Read more at University of Toronto Quarterly