This Week in History
The First Gay Rights Protest in Canada
For the week of Monday, August 22, 2016
On August 28, 1971, the first large-scale gay rights protest in Canada made its way to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, demanding equality and rights for gay and lesbian Canadians.
Two years earlier, the omnibus crime bill, C-150, was passed into law. This bill decriminalized homosexuality in Canada. Though controversial, it was championed by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who famously insisted that “the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.” Although the new law did not protect against discrimination, it ensured that people would no longer be jailed for their sexual orientation. Decriminalization allowed the growth of a vocal gay rights movement in Canada, which has since grown to include activism for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) Canadians.
In the pouring rain, about 200 people marched to Parliament Hill chanting, “Two, four, six, eight, gay is just as good as straight!” At the same time, a parallel march took place in Vancouver. Now known as the “We Demand” protest, the demonstrators read a list of 10 demands directed at the federal government. Included were the right to serve in the military, non-exclusionary immigration law, equal opportunities in the government workplace, and standardized consent laws for both gay and straight couples. They also called for equal legal rights and for public officials to campaign against intolerance.
The “We Demand” protest marked the beginning of a growing gay rights movement in Canada. In 1978, activists saw their first demand met with an amendment to the Immigration Act, allowing gay and lesbian immigrants into Canada. In 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms helped people fight for equality through the court system. A series of judicial decisions and continued activism resulted in additional legal protections. Today, pride parades are held in cities across Canada in celebration of the nation’s vibrant and diverse LGBTQ+ community.
The Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau was Prime Minister from 1968–1979 and 1980–1984. He is a designated national historic person.
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