Toronto Life’s most memorable LGBT coverage (so far)
To celebrate Toronto Life’s 50th anniversary, we’re revisiting the best stories, photos and issues from the magazine’s past. Here, just in time for the Pride Parade, a look back at our most memorable coverage of gay life and LGBT rights
Coming Out in Toronto
Toronto Life’s first feature on gay life was a sympathetic primer on the heroes (activist George Hislop) and villains (police deputy chief Jack Ackroyd) of the day. It was early 1972, and life as a gay person could be difficult. Take, for example, the accounts that start this story: a dozen men had just been arrested and charged with “gross indecency.” The piece familiarized readers with an unseen side of the city, and compared the LGBT-rights movement to that of Women’s Liberation many years prior.
Nearly a decade after the last piece, the story remained more or less the same: it was the LGBT community vs. the police. This time, the inciting incident was the bathhouse raids (an event for which the police only recently apologized). The opening line of this column, which condemned the raids, reads: “February must be a slow month for muggers, rapists, burglars and murderers, as that was the month Toronto Metropolitan Police could spare 200 of its finest to scoop up almost 300 mutually consenting adults for allegedly diddling each other in circumstances contrary to various sections of the Criminal Code.”
Gay-Bashing in High Park
About a year before this issue hit stands, a gang of teenagers chased, beat and murdered a gay 40-year-old librarian in High Park. Reporter Brian Shein pieced together the story, which proved that, even five years after the raids forced LGBT Torontonians into public view, simply being gay could be dangerous. A short (but still grim) version is told through these illustrations: the boys found Zeller and chased him to his car, where they punched him until he was unconscious. Five of the young men were sentenced to nine years in prison.
Dad and Dad and the Kids
Finally, a story that doesn’t involve any arrests. Relationship columnist Jocelyn Laurence tells the story of Anne and Paul, an unhappily married couple with two kids. One day, Anne discovered a receipt from the Four Seasons Hotel. When she confronted Paul, he cried and confessed that “he’d been having an affair not with another woman but with a man.” (Dear reader, gasp here.) When the couple separated, Paul took the kids. Laurence’s feature follows him through all the hoops, hurdles and awkward moments of gay single parenthood—and answers all the questions Torontonians had about how families could possibly work with two parents of the same sex.
Sex and Death
Paul Roberts’ feature about the AIDS crisis christened 1987 the Year of the Big Fear, when the syndrome—documented in 235 people across the city—had spread into the heterosexual community, shattering society’s dichotomous view of straight and LGBT city dwellers. “It wasn’t ‘them’ any more. It was now, and for the future, to be ‘us.'”
In the same issue, the magazine’s events calendar plugged La Cage, a drag club—and a sorely needed contrast to the dreary “Sex and Death” cover story. The bar, sandwiched between a Taco Bell and a shoe store on Yonge, was planning an impersonation extravaganza featuring Tina Turner, Dolly Parton and Marilyn Monroe lookalikes and some groaners. “A cast of very glamorous men strutting their stuff on stage is definitely not a drag!”
Gay After AIDS
Gerald Hannon, a regular Toronto Life writer who frequently covered LGBT issues, brought a personal perspective to this exploration of gay life in Toronto after the AIDS crisis. It begins at a Gay Pride Day, where a man is reading aloud the names of recent dead, and transitions to later that night, around 3 a.m., when there a three men in a park, “just standing around playing with themselves.” “Who am I and why am I dragging you through this?” Hannon asked readers at one point. “I want you there because I want you to see that the sun, the celebration, the AIDS Memorial, the dark, the cruising, the group-sex scenes are one seamless whole, like a Möbius strip, looping magically, never changing sides.”
John Prickly Mays
Hannon had a little more fun with John Bentley Mays, a Globe and Mail art critic who moonlighted as a drag queen. Our favourite bit: “[Mays] can outrage by being a consummate bitch (‘Do I want to become a celebrity in this town? Not since I heard that means you have to have dinner with the Frums.’)”
By the end of the 1990s, things were, in comparison, looking a lot cheerier for LGBT people in the city. Even “stiff-necked politicians” like Dalton McGuinty, Mel Lastman and Allan Rock, pictured here, attended the 1999 Pride Parade. Here’s what we had to say about that: “When over 750,000 gawkers (more than attend the Santa Claus Parade) come out to watch big-haired drag queens, semi-naked men on disco floats, bare-breasted lesbians and, yes, these folks mooning, you know Gay Pride has hit the mainstream.”