The Velvet Fist - Lesbian and Gay Liberation in 1981 Toronto (in process)

Police Headquarters the night of  June 20, 1981. Gay bashers and the police attack the demonstrators.

On February 6, 1981, just after midnight, a crowd of 3000 primarily gay men and lesbians, rioted down Yonge Street on the way to Toronto Police 52 Division and then Queen's Park. That night would become known as Canada's version of the Stonewall Riots and followed the brutal mass arrest the previous night of over 300 gay men by 150 Metropolitan Toronto Police Officers at four gay bathhouses. 


During the bathhouse raid and despite being offered keys by managers and patrons, the police used sledgehammers and crowbars to smash walls, doors, and lockers. In one bathhouse, numbers were written on gay men's hands as they were corralled into the showers, and one officer said, "Too bad these showers aren't hooked up to gas." One arrestee later said that he understood his parents, Holocaust survivors, for the first time.


That year, Toronto's newly visible and somewhat united gay and lesbian community would defy the expectations of the police and society, organizing and attending numerous unprecedented political actions and demonstrations.  The gay community also offered self-defence classes and formed a gay street patrol to protect its members from gay-bashers and the police. In June, a parade followed an afternoon of festivities in Grange Park, when 1500 stepped out onto the street, in front of the media, carrying banners, blowing whistles and chanting.

Progress on this project has been made possible by the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives and the generosity of interviewees Rosemary Barnes, John Burt, Lawrence Bennett, Bob Gallagher, Amy Gottlieb, Gerald Hannon,

Mary Harvey, Brent Hawkes, Ed Jackson, Gary Kinsman, Elinor Mahoney, Tim McCaskell, Pearse Murray,

Deb Parent, Ken Popert, Marie Robertson, Gillian Rodgerson, Ron Rosenes, Mariana Valverde and Tom Warner.


Funding for the research for this book has been provided by the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) in the form of a Dresher Center For the Humanities Residential Faculty Research Fellowship, as well as the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Dean's Research Fund Award and a Special Research Assistantship/Initiative Support Award.