Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.
As we celebrate LGBTQ+ figure skating history during Pride Month, it's extremely important to highlight the basic context of LGBTQ+ rights in Canada.
In 1969, Bill C-150 was passed decriminalizing homosexuality. At the time, Pierre Trudeau (who was then the Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada) famously said, "There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation."
Prior to Bill C-150, amendments to the Criminal Code had been passed under the leadership of two different Prime Ministers (one Liberal and one Progressive Conservative) that framed members of the LGBTQ+ community as "dangerous sexual offenders" and "criminal sexual psychopaths" in the eyes of the law.
Frazey Ford's rendition of Bruce Cockburn's "Lovers In A Dangerous Time"
Members of the LGBTQ+ community could be - and certainly were - harassed by the police, denied housing, fired from jobs, assaulted with no consequences to their attackers, institutionalized, fined and jailed indefinitely... and that's just really the tip of the iceberg.
Things absolutely didn't magically get better in 1969 either - Bill C-150 just meant you couldn't get thrown in jail indefinitely. It didn't mean you couldn't get harassed by the police, arrested or fired from your job, let alone married.
A glimpse back into the struggles the Toronto LGBTQ+ community continued to face nearly a decade after Bill C-150 was passed. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library.
It wasn't until 1995, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights of Freedoms should be updated to prohibit discrimination by all employers, landlords, service providers and governments on the basis of sexual orientation, that there were truly nation-wide laws in place protecting the jobs of members of the LGBTQ+ community. This gave new protections to skating coaches, whose employment with skating clubs was at times tenuous. This also provided protection to judges and volunteers who relied on day jobs to continue their involvement in one of the country's most expensive sports.
It's extremely important to understand the context of the times when you study history... and consider what life really would have been like for LGBTQ+ members of the skating community. If you were Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer in Canada prior to 1969, you lived your best life underground - at great risk... or you didn't live your best life at all. 'Confirmed bachelors' and 'spinsters' were absolutely a thing... as were lavender marriages.
Judith Rudd and Alastair Munro
A number of elite Canadian skaters in the 1950's, including Ian Knight, Larry Rost and Alastair Munro, all lost their lives to HIV/AIDS in the 1980's.
Debbi Wilkes and Guy Revell
Olympic Medallist Debbi Wilkes has candidly written about her pairs partner Guy Revell's struggles with coming to terms with his sexuality. Revell ultimately took his own life in 1981.
1955 Canadian Medallist Gordon Crossland's memoir "A Nobody's Dream... Came True" recounted his liaison with Peter Firstbrook, who was Canadian Champion from 1951 to 1953. Crossland also recalled the bullying he went through in school and a potentially disastrous rumour that was spread about him being gay.
For every sad story that has come to light, there were certainly more happier ones - but most of those were kept quite private... because they had to be at the time.
Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.