Monday, March 21, 2011

Queering the Archives: The Collections of the CLGA #2

For the second installment highlighting some collections of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives we'll look at the papers of Jim Egan and Gays of Ottawa.

As a pioneer gay activist Jim Egan was one of the most important figures in the early gay rights movement in Canada. As early as 1949 he was writing politicians, newspapers, magazines and tabloids protesting anti-gay attitudes and correcting gay myths and stereotypes. This includes letters occasionally published in Saturday Night and participation in an article in MacClean's For example, David Churchill has noted that:

Throughout the 1950s, Egan undertook an extensive one-man letter-writing campaign challenging the sensational representation of homosexuals as sex perverts. Every time a negative story appeared in the tabloids, or in the mainstream newspapers for that matter, Egan would write a letter to the editor challenging the views expressed in the article. During the 1950s alone, Egan would write some eighty-odd letters and articles challenging the representation of homosexuals in the tabloids and offering up his own opinions and views on the subject. 
  • David Churchill, MOTHER GOOSE’S MAP: Tabloid Geographies and Gay Male Experience in 1950s Toronto. Journal of Urban History 30.6, Sept. 2004.

 As well, Egan and his partner Jack Nesbit took the gay rights movement to the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1995 in which they used the the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to challenge the exclusion of same-sex couples from pension benefits. Though they lost their specific cause the Court ultimately read in sexual orientation as a grounds for discrimination under The Charter.

The CLGA holds the papers of Jim Egan as one of its treasures. One of its volunteers, Donald W. Mcleod, edited Egan's autobiography, Challenging the Conspiracy of Silence: My Life As a Canadian Gay Activist. The entire text is available online here.

For background information on Gays of Ottawa I'll direct you to a link which also directs to some earlier posts. The CLGA describes its Gays of Ottawa Records:

Founded in Sep 1971 by, among others, Charles Hill (who had earlier been with Canada's first post Stonewall gay group, the University of Toronto Homophile Association), Gays of Ottawa (GO) remained for many years the focus of gay activism in Ottawa. And even across Canada: many records here pertain to GO's role as Coordinating Office of the National Gay Rights Coalition (1975-1980; by its end called the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Rights Coalition). GO's newsletter Go Info, launched in 1972, became the city's gay community newspaper. Its premises housed a library and drop-in centre; it held dances and later ran a licenced bar. Part of this collection survived a 1979 fire that destroyed GO's first office, sparing only these files. GO became ALGO (the Association of Lesbians and Gays of Ottawa) in 1989. The organization closed its doors in Sep 1995. But it left a legacy: the city's AIDS Committee, its Pink Triangle Services organization, and the Abiwin housing co-op can all trace their roots back a quarter century to the founding of Gays of Ottawa.

If anyone is looking for issues GO Info there is an incomplete record of them at Library and Archives Canada and a complete collection at the Kelly McGinnis Library of Pink Triangle Services in Ottawa.

Happy hunting and I hope these posts bring historians to the doorstep of the CLGA.

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