LGBT History

In this part of the workshop I am going to walk you through some historical events from an LGBT perspective and create a picture of the environment and times that your senior LGBT clients grew up and that shaped their lives. Many of these events I only became aware of myself since I joined the training team five years ago and I was shocked to discover how little I knew about the history of my own community.

It has helped me understand why when I was in my 30s and going to lesbian dances and other events in our community I rarely saw any seniors. I have learned that for the generations of lesbians and gays ahead of me – now in their 70, 80s 90s blending in with their heterosexual peers was critical for them to survive. And they have been successful at doing this – so much so that often staff in seniors centres, and residences that we visit often think that there are no LGBT seniors in their homes or programs.

This is changing now as my generation – the baby boomers, are aging and are more open about our identity. I hope you will find the presentation helpful in terms of understanding why your elderlyLGBT clients may not talk much about parts of their lives, why some of them might be fearful in certain situations and why they may never tell you that they are gay or lesbian or transgendered. It also shows the context in which all your senior clients grew up in – and which influenced their attitudes toward gays and lesbians.

1930s in Germany

In Germany, and particularly in Berlin in the 1920s and early 1930s, gays and lesbians enjoyed a higher level of freedom and acceptance than almost anywhere else in the world. This is a photo of Marlene Dietrich, who was bisexual, performing at a popular gay bar called the Eldorado. However, when the Nazis came to power all gay and lesbian bars and meeting places in Germany were closed. They changed the laws against homosexuality to make it easier to arrest homosexuals and began imprisoning them. It is estimated that 100,000 were arrested and sentenced to prisons. The fact that the most liberal place for gays and lesbians became a very dangerous place for them within a short time framework sends chills down my back showing that things can change very quickly. I have heard that older gays think that our generation is taking a very big risk in being open about our identity.

1934- 45

A time when your sexuality could be your death sentence And things got worse. In 1934 the Nazis began rounding up gay men and lesbians and shipping them to concentration camps, along with Jews, gypsies and others who were deemed inferior and undesirable. To identify them homosexuals were forced to wear a large pink triangle and lesbians a black one. Homosexuals in the camps were treated in an unusually cruel manner by their captors, and were also persecuted by their fellow inmates. At the end of WW2 when concentration camps were liberated by the Ally forces, some gays were re-arrested by the govt and put back in prison. Veterans of WW2 are now in their late 80s and 90s, amongst them are some who survived the camps and others who may have liberated them. Branded by the Pink Triangle is a book – published 2013 by a Retired TO librarian aimed at education young people about this chapter of LGBT history.

World War Two 1934-1945: The military as an image of masculinity

In 1939 Canada entered WW II; and unlike more recent wars, enrolment in the armed forces was a source of great pride and duty– everyone wanted to play a role to fight to save the free world. Anyone refusing to serve was shunned by others – and often had difficulty finding employment. It was forbidden for gays to join the army, but to admit to being gay meant that one would be condemned to being an outcast in society – and men wanted to be part of the war effort.

It was easy enough for young men to lie about their sexual orientation to get in – but the price they paid was having to live with the fear of being found out. Homosexual activity was seen as threatening to the image of the military as a bastion of masculinity. Considerable resources were committed to gathering evidence to intimidate and ultimately discharge suspected homosexuals.

So imagine this scenario – a pilot in the air force – serving his country, has survived many high risk missions; perhaps has even received a medal of honour; but then on leave one day is caught or accused of engaging in sex with another man. He is labelled a pervert, charged with indecent behaviour and given a dishonourable discharge. This happened and many committed suicide rather than deal with the shame of facing their families and communities back home. And it also meant military lost highly skilled men and women.

Post War: The Imitation Game – Alan Turing

A recent Hollywood movie – The Imitation Game – up for an Academy award brings this history to light with the story of Alan Turing, who had a brilliant mind and played a key role in cracking codes that the Nazis used to transmit messages – a contributing factor to the Allies winning the war. After the war (1952) he was prosecuted for being gay and rather than go to prison, he chose chemical castration. He committed suicide 2 years later at the age of 42. And sixty years later he British Prime Minister (Gordon Brown) apologized for the appalling way he was treated and on 2013 he was officially “pardoned” by Queen Elizabeth II. There is currently a campaign to do the same for the 49,000 other men who were convicted for being gay during that time.

Kinsey report – 1948; 1953 – get Brian’s two liner

Not long after the end of the war Alfred Kinsey- a researcher – published two books on human sexual behaviour which got a lot of attention. Kinsey argued that there is just a small percentage of people who are exclusively homosexuals – or exclusively heterosexuals- that there is a continuum and the majority of people are somewhere in between . He concluded that about 10% of people (13% of men and 7% of women in his American studies) were homosexual. This news shocks the public because it meant that a much larger number of men and women might be experiencing same sex attraction than previously believed. (up to then believed to be about 1%)

1950s and 1960s – The Fruit machine

The 50s was another dark period of glbt history . Former military leaders moved on to key positions in business and gov’t, so the anti-gay culture became embedded in the emerging post war institutions and society. This was the time of the “Cold War” with Russia – and gays and lesbians in the gov’t were seen as high security risk due to the fact that it was still a criminal offense to be homosexual making homosexuals more vulnerable to being blackmailed to reveal gov’t secrets. So this was a time of massive witch hunts to root out gays and lesbians in the RCMP, the military and the Public Service. Although this took place in both Canada and the US, Canada was unique in the development of a machine to try and scientifically determine who was gay. It was developed at Carleton Univ and became known as the fruit machine This is a photo of it. People were called in to offices – told they were being given a stress test and hooked up to a machine.

Subjects were  exposed to erotic pictures of men and women and if their pupils dilated, pulse quickened or they began to perspire for the “right” photos, he was deemed to be gay and were fired on the spot. Or they might say “Ok, Fred, we’ll let you keep your job if you give names of others who are gay”. This created a highly stressful work environment and would have contributed to an increase in health and addiction problems; thousands were terrorized; many were fired and some committed suicide staff. And not surprisingly the machine turned out to not be very accurate. Some straight men failed the test too; were labelled homosexual and fired. There is a copy of the fruit machine on display at the Cdn War museum. If you have clients in your care who worked in the Public Service during this time they would remember this era of discrimination. They may have lost their job – or certainly know others who did – and that trauma could still live in them.

1965 – Trudeau responds to a Supreme Court decision re: Everett Klippert;

1969: homosexual acts decriminalized

I became a teenager in the 60s. To be gay in the 60s still meant that you were deemed to be a criminals by law; mentally ill by the Canadian Psychiatric Assoc and sinners my most religious denominations. Not a very attractive option. No wonder it never occurred to me that I might be one.

If you were charged for engaging in homosexual sex; it did not just mean that you got a criminal record but it meant prison time. In fact in Canada in 1965 someone was given a life sentence. Can you believe that? This happened to Everett Klippert, a man from NWT who was arrested for suspected arson, cleared of that charge but then was charged with gross indecency because he admitted to being an active homosexual. He appealed the life sentence and the case was taken to the Supreme Court of Canada and the sentence was upheld as he was considered a dangerous sexual offender who was likely to reoffend. His case got attention and mobilized people to demand changes to the criminal code. In 1969 Pierre Trudeau, Justice Minister at that time, decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults (Omnibus Bill C-150)– with his historic statement “The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation”. Mr. Klippert was released from prison in 1971.

1969: Stonewall Riots: The birth of gay power

In the 50s and 60s, the NYC police regularly raided and arrested patrons in gay bars. However, in June, 1969,; when the police brutally attacked LGBT patrons at a bar called the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village – the patrons, for the first time fought back. Riots broke out, spread on to the streets and continued for 6 days, as more and more members of the LGBT community joined in and took a stand against the discrimination and police brutality. These riots mobilized gays across the US and Canada to unite to fight injustice and is seen as the beginning of the gay liberation movement.

History chart – dark era; no basic human rights – beginning of fighting back and demanding respect and equality; Not to say that it was all positive – still tragic events of injustice

1971 – Parliament Hill – We Demand

In Canada, the first gay rights demo took place in Ottawa on Parliament Hill in 1971. Mural commemorating this event is on the wall at the corner of Gilmour and Bank St.

1973 – Homosexuality no longer classified as a mental illness.

American Psychiatric Assn. declares homosexuality not a mental illness.

Quebec: Warren Zufelt (1941 – March 18, 1975) Canada

1975: Over a three week sting, Ottawa Police arrested 18 men on various charges for having sex with men, who were supposedly male prostitutes. The 18 men had been charged, but not convicted of a crime. Every effort was made to implore Citizen staff not to identify the 18 men. However, the newspaper ignored all pleas and printed their names, addresses and occupations. The story was published in newspapers, and broadcast on TV and radio across Canada. The lives of these 18 men and their families were destroyed, and one of the men, 34 year-old Warren Zufelt jumped 13 floors out of a building to his death. All charges against the 18 men were proved false and were dismissed the following year. That was too late for Warren Zufelt.

Canada’s Stonewall – 1981 Toronto Bathhouse Riots –- A city galvanized

Canada’s equivalent of the Stonewall riots took place 10 years later. In 1981, Toronto Police raided four prominent bathhouses – which are a safe place where men who wanted to have sex with other men could go. The police used unnecessary violence – they went in with axes and broke down the doors of the individual rooms, which you can imagine would be a terrifying experience for the men inside. They arrested about 300 men in what was called “Operation Soap”. The Richmond bathhouse was so badly damaged, it never reopened. The next day 3,000 people staged a demonstration against police brutality and more protests followed culminating in Toronto’s first pride event a month later that gave rise to gay pride marches that have evolved into today’s events.


1981 Onwards – AIDS

A rare form of cancer is discovered – researchers did not know what caused it or how it could be contracted. As the first 41 cases occurred in gay men, the disease was initially seen as a gay disease. Several months later, physicians realized heterosexuals also could be infected.; however, the disease continues to be associated with gay men. The hysteria and terror towards AIDS had begun. The ‘sinful’ acts and lifestyle of gay men were blamed for this new, lethal scourge.

Gay communities were decimated throughout North America. Thousands were dying a terrible death. Every day someone new would be diagnosed or someone would die. Victims often were evicted from their apartments and were fired from their jobs. Families were often shocked to learn that not only was their son gay, but was dying of AIDS. The stigma drove many families to abandon their sons, leaving them totally vulnerable.

Health care workers often neglected patients with AIDS, for fear of contracting the disease. Patients regularly were left in squalid conditions and not cared by the exact people whose job it was to provide care. Many of the religious right said that AIDS was God’s will. God was punishing sinners for their immoral behaviour. “Gays got what they deserved.”

In many cases, friends became ‘family’; AIDS hospices, such as Casey House in Toronto were established; and many women rallied to become pillars of support as the gay male community was decimated. Any LGBT person who is a Baby Boomer or older was directly or indirectly affected by AIDS.

Today in North America 0.6% of the adult population has been diagnosed with AIDS. The story is much more tragic in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the rate is almost 10x greater at 5.0%.


Canada hosts Gay Games in Vancouver; 7,000 athletes participate; for the first time since their inception in 1982, they were held outside the US


Mathew Shepard is brutally murdered in Wyoming. In Ottawa, Alain Brosseau, a straight man who was thought to be gay, is thrown over the Interprovincial Bridge to his death by a gang of homophobic thugs.

Rights for Gays and Lesbians

  • 1986 Sexual orientation added to Ontario Human Rights Code
  • 1992 Canada removes ban and allows gays to serve in military
  • 1996 Bill C-33 Sexual orientation becomes part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
  • 2000 Bill C-23, 68 federal statutes are amended to afford same sex partners the same financial and tax rights as married couples
  • 2001 Same-sex relationships counted in census for the first time
  • 2003 The government passes legislation allowing same-sex partners to receive pension benefits earned by their partners.
  • 2004 The list of possible hate crimes is amended to include crimes based on sexual orientation.
  • 2005 Gay marriage legalized in Canada

Rights for Transgender People

  • 2012 Bill 33 in Ontario Human Rights Code with respect to gender identity and gender expression.


  • Many advances have been made in N. America and Europe regarding respect, dignity and acceptance of LGBT people. Despite all of the advances, LGBT youth in Canada are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts. This rate increases to 8 times if an LGBT youth is rejected by their family.
  • Despite advances in Canada, we must continue to be diligent. There has been a negative backlash in many other countries.
  • Internationally, Russia just announced that transgender persons may not have driver’s licences
  • A bill almost passed in Arizona last year making it legal for those in service industries not to provide service to LGBT clients
  • Uganda has tried to enact the death penalty for anyone who is deemed gay.
  • There are 79 countries in the world where homosexuality is illegal: 36 in Africa; 22 in the Middle East and 10 in the Americas.
  • There are 10 countries where being gay is punishable by death.


Some of our more elderly friends continue to be apprehensive about entering a care facility for fear of discrimination by staff and other residents.

Gay bashing, discrimination and homophobia are still out there.

Copyright © 2013 Knox United Church, Kenora. All rights reserved.

“May the grace of Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the holy spirit be with you all”
2 Corinthians 13-14