In preparation for The Gay Heritage Project we reached out to Kevin Dale McKeown, The Georgia Straight’s gay news columnist from 1970 – 1975 and currently writing for the online publication Xtra. Here are his thoughts on gay heritage.
Vancouver’s queer community has a long and rich heritage, much of it preserved in oral histories (and barroom gossip) from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, some found in early newsletters of the Association for Sexual Knowledge (ASK) in the sixties, and then, beginning in the 70s in sometimes excruciating detail in my weekly column, “QQ Writes …. Page 69”, in the Georgia Straight, and in subsequent periodicals such as Your Thing, The Gay Canadian, and Angles, all precursors to the appearance in 1993 of Xtra West. There have been many milestones in that history, some of them global, some national, and many less well remembered moments in our own city.
My own appearance in a publicly circulated newspaper was a milestone of sorts, and the founding of Vancouver’s Gay Liberation Front (GLF), the efforts to desegregate our “men only” clubs and bars, the legal struggle of the Gay Alliance Towards Equality (GATE) against the Vancouver Sun over its refusal to publish classified ads with the word “gay”, the public rallies and protest during the 70s, and the first Gay Unity March in 1978, which evolved into today’s annual Pride parade are all top-of mind when I think of our heritage and history.
The founding of many organizations, especially the drag community’s Dogwood Monarchist Society, which helped rally our community during the terrible plague years during which AIDS took so many of our friends and loved ones, were milestones worth noting.
The opening of a pioneering gay and lesbian bookstore, Little Sisters, in 1983 and their subsequent legal fight with Canada Customs over our right to import and read books that were meaningful to us … there was a milestone!
Yes, we’ve come a long way and made a lot of progress. But I feel that our “community” is now in a challenging period where we are questioning the need for identity politics and squabbling within our ranks over issues that would have seemed irrelevant forty years ago. There is still work to do, and we need to preserve our history so that future generations remember their roots, how hard we fought for what we have, and realize how easily it could all be lost to us if we do not continue to stand together.
We have many allies now we didn’t have before. And we can work together with other marginalized groups to continue to push for advances on all fronts. But ultimately I believe that it is up to us to support and care for our own, and I think that begins with educating and supporting the next generation, and the one after that.
Speaking of identity politics, I dislike both the catch-all use of the word “queer” to represent our community, and the ever-morphing alphabet soup we’re burdened with today.
I’m all in favour of the use of a new acronym, which comes to us out of the London queer community, GSD, for Gender and Sexual Diversity. Doesn’t “GSD community” say it all, without putting anyone’s nose out of joint?
I look forward to hearing more about the history and heritage of the GSD community across Canada through The Gay Heritage Project, and sharing some of my own stories at the opening reception. –Kevin Dale McKeown
About The Gay Heritage Project: Three of our country’s most gifted creator/performers set out to answer one question: is there such a thing as gay heritage? In their search, they uncover a rich history not often shared and shine new light on contemporary gay culture. The result is a hilarious and moving homage to the people who came before us and the events that continue to shape our lives.
The Daisy Theatre’s Ronnie Burkett said we would be crazy not to program this show! “Celebratory, upbeat, and deeply moving” — Toronto Star