Sexual Diversity Activism at the University of Toronto

On November 2, 2011, the Ontario Heritage Trust, the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, and the University of Toronto unveiled a provincial plaque at University College to commemorate Sexual Diversity Activism at the University of Toronto.

The bilingual plaque reads as follows:


    Having first met off campus, the University of Toronto Homophile Association (UTHA) convened again on November 4, 1969, at University College to advocate equality and freedom for gay men and lesbians. This was the first group of its kind at a Canadian university. Early on, UTHA attracted supporters far beyond the University of Toronto community, influencing the formation of like-minded groups on university campuses and in communities across Ontario and the country. UTHA was closely connected to a larger North American liberationist culture that sought to bring visibility to traditionally marginalized sexual minorities by challenging the discriminatory practices and beliefs of the state and society. This movement continued to grow through protest, coalition building and community education, countering prejudice and asserting the necessity of recognizing diversity.


    Après s’être réunie à l’extérieur du campus, la University of Toronto Homophile Association (UTHA) se rassemble de nouveau le 4 novembre 1969, cette fois au sein du Collège University, pour défendre les droits des homosexuels et des lesbiennes sur le plan de l’équité et de la liberté. C’est la première fois qu’une université canadienne accueille un tel groupe. Très tôt, l’UTHA rallie à sa cause des partisans qui ne font pas partie de la communauté de l’Université de Toronto, et influence la formation de groupes de même sensibilité au sein de campus universitaires et de collectivités aux quatre coins de l’Ontario et du Canada. L’UTHA entretient des liens étroits avec une culture nord-américaine libérationniste de plus grande envergure qui ambitionne de faire connaître les minorités sexuelles traditionnellement marginalisées, notamment en remettant en question les pratiques et croyances discriminatoires de l’État et de la société. Ce mouvement continue de se développer en lançant des revendications, en fondant des coalitions, en sensibilisant la communauté, en luttant contre les préjugés et en affirmant la nécessité de reconnaître la diversité.

Historical background

    “Anyone interested in discussing the establishment of a STUDENT HOMOPHILE ORGANIZATION please contact: Jerry, Phone 922-2050 after 5 p.m.”1

This landmark advertisement ran in the classified section of the October 15, 1969 issue of The Varsity, the University of Toronto’s student newspaper. The result was the first meeting of the University of Toronto Homophile Association (UTHA) on October 24, 1969, at Jearld Moldenhauer’s McCaul Street apartment.2 So marked the birth of the first gay organization on a Canadian university campus, and one of the first gay groups in the country.3

Jearld Moldenhauer was an American-Canadian gay activist and an early architect of the gay liberation movement. As a student at Cornell University in 1967, he helped form the Cornell Student Homophile League, the second advocacy group of its kind at an American university. In 1969, he found work as a research assistant at the University of Toronto (U of T) and, while in that position, called the first meeting of the UTHA, helping to ignite the gay liberation movement in Canada. Moldenhauer expanded his advocacy in 1970 by opening Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto, Canada’s first store that catered to the gay community.4

Other original and influential members of the UTHA included Charles Hill and Ian Young. Hill was a student at the University of Toronto in 1969 and became the first Chair of the UTHA. In his role as the public voice for the group, on August 28, 1971, Hill delivered a milestone speech at the first mass demonstration of gays and lesbians on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Hill moved to Ottawa in 1972 and, by 1973, was president of Gays of Ottawa (GO). He began working at the National Gallery of Canada, eventually becoming curator of the Canadian art collection.5 Apart from his work in the UTHA, Ian Young published a groundbreaking collection of poetry, Year of the Quiet Sun (1969), and in 1970 founded Catalyst Press, the first gay literary publishing house in Canada.6

Eighteen people attended the UTHA’s first public meeting at University College on November 4, 1969, shortly after it had been recognized by the U of T Students’ Administrative Council as an official student association.7 Through its constitution, the UTHA announced its dedication to “educating the community about homosexuality, working to combat discrimination against homosexuality, and bringing about a social and personal acceptance of homosexuality.”8 The word “homophile” – the Greek words homo (same) and philos (loving) – was a term widely associated with already-existing politically moderate gay groups in several American and European cities.9 The UTHA’s agenda, however, was more expansive and political than most of these.

Membership in the UTHA was open to all persons of the U of T community who were in agreement with the aims and purposes of the association.10 Some of the organization’s early activities included the sponsorship of discussion groups, plays, a speakers bureau, guest lectures, dances and an information table that had its original home in Sidney Smith Hall – a large classroom and office building at the heart of the university campus.11

Although the UTHA’s membership was small during the first few meetings, it swelled quickly during the first year. Students and staff were drawn to UTHA’s “liberationist” politic – its embrace of radical and non-traditional approaches to sexuality. Restiveness among gay men and lesbians had grown in the years leading up to 1969. The reality of the Second World War and military service provided an opportunity for individuals to engage more in the same-sex relationships and intimacies that the state and society had traditionally stigmatized. This allowed some homosexuals in Canada to discover that they were not alone in their homosexual orientations. Although in Canada, the immediate post-war period did not witness organized efforts to protest the treatment of sexual minorities, historians of sexuality generally agree that this was an important period of incubation for the emergence of a transnational gay and lesbian consciousness.12

It would not be until the end of the 1960s, alongside the growth of other social movements, and in the wake of the June 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, that the gay liberation movement found its footing in North America and Europe. Influenced by leftist politics, and in the context of the Canadian Criminal Code amendments of 1969, which decriminalized certain homosexual acts in private between consenting individuals 21 and older, homosexuals began to organize.13 Although it would be a challenge to galvanize all gays and lesbians into one movement, the University of Toronto Homophile Association was a major “spark” that helped to ignite the gay liberation movement in Ontario and Canada.14

From the beginning, the UTHA attracted supporters beyond the U of T community, and it influenced the formation of like-minded groups at university campuses across Ontario and the rest of Canada, including York University, the University of Western Ontario and the University of Guelph.15 The UTHA published literature in accordance with its mandate to combat stereotypes, myths and fears about homosexuality. This literature – such as GAYOKAY, an early UTHA newsletter – provided commentary on the sociological, psychological and legal aspects of homosexuality.16 The group also invited people in a position of authority to speak to its membership and the general public with challenging and affirming messages. Dr. Franklin Kameny, a prominent gay American activist with the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., was a well-received speaker at one of the UTHA’s first public lectures, on January 22, 1970.17

The UTHA organized protests to challenge police surveillance and media prejudice. It pointed to discrimination against gays and lesbians employed in the public service and in other domains. It asserted the visibility of sexual minorities and the importance of political action. In the years immediately after its founding, the UTHA was instrumental in influencing the formation of several other pioneering Canadian gay organizations, including The Body Politic (1971), Toronto Gay Action (1971), Gay Alliance Toward Equality (1973) and the Canadian Gay Liberation Movement Archives (1973).18 The importance that the UTHA attached to community outreach led naturally to the formation of the Community Homophile Association of Toronto (CHAT) in 1970, which organized events celebrating sexual diversity and provided supportive counselling and legal services to homosexuals. George Hislop, prominent gay activist and UTHA member, was the first president of CHAT.19

The UTHA ceased formal operations in 1973, but campus activism was reinvigorated with the formation of Gays at University of Toronto (GAUT) in 1977. Although early members of the UTHA and GAUT were predominately gay men, in later years the organization would speak more assertively to lesbian feminists and other sexual minorities, reflected in its change of name to Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Trans People of the U of T (LGBTOUT).20

Throughout this rich history, the people who have been involved – first with the UTHA, and then with subsequent groups at the university – have continued to generate advocacy that challenges established ideas about sexual diversity, gender identity and even sexuality itself. University-based activism on these issues was accompanied by a drive to rethink how sexuality and gender were conceptualized, written about and taught. Ideas were at the centre of this work. Much of the avant-garde writing that grew with the rise of gay liberation, lesbian feminism and later advocacy on bisexuality and transgenderism was by independent scholars and cultural producers.21 Over time, however, universities became the sites of important research and teaching that raised the profile of these issues. The Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, based at the U of T’s University College, is an important element of that legacy.

Because of the groundbreaking and pioneering work accomplished by the UTHA in these early years – and by those associated with it – the movement has continued to grow through protest, coalition building and community outreach, effectively asserting the value of respecting diversity and the necessity of equality.

The Ontario Heritage Trust gratefully acknowledges the research of Amanda Robinson in preparing this paper.

© Ontario Heritage Trust, 2011, 2012

1 Varsity (Toronto, ON), October 15, 1969: 13.

2 “Transcription of Interview with Jearld Moldenhauer Conducted by Lionel Collier,” November 2, 1986. Paul Morrison papers, 2004-099/02, Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (Toronto).

3 Donald W. McLeod, Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada: A Selected Annotated Chronology, 1964-1975 (Toronto: ECW Press/Homewood Books, 1996), 45. See also Tom Warner, Never Going Back: A History of Queer Activism in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002).

4 McLeod, Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada, 45-46. See also Warner, Never Going Back, 59-69; Donald W. McLeod, “Jearld Moldenhauer,” in Who’s Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day, ed. Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon (London: Routledge, 2002), 288-89. For an in-depth discussion of Jearld Moldenhauer’s role in the formation of the Cornell Student Homophile League see David S. Churchill, “Transnationalism and Homophile Political Culture in the Postwar Decades,” GLQ 15, no.1 (2009): 31-66. For a general history of early lesbian, gay and bisexual college student groups see Brett Beemyn, “The Silence is Broken: A History of the First Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual College Student Groups,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 12, no. 2 (2003): 205-23.

5 Harold Averill, “Charles C. Hill,” in Who’s Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History, 188.

6 Donald W. McLeod, “Ian Young,” in Who’s Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History, 458.

7 “SAC Supports Homosexuals,” Varsity (Toronto, ON), November 5, 1969: 15. This article identifies October 29, 1969, as the date that the University of Toronto Students’ Administrative Council (SAC) recognized UTHA as an official organization.

8 UTHA Constitution. UTHA papers, 1982-006/01, Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (Toronto).

9 The UTHA’s first newsletter identified and defined the term homophile while simultaneously using it to represent the aims and goals of the organization. UTHA Newsletter, no. 1 (April 1970). UTHA papers, 1982-006/01, Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (Toronto). For a broader discussion of the history of the homophile movement, including its limitations, see Warner, Never Going Back, and Churchill, “Transnationalism and Homophile Political Culture in the Postwar Decades,” 31-66.

10 UTHA Constitution. UTHA papers, 1982-006/01, Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (Toronto).

11 McLeod, Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada, 46.

12 For a broader discussion of the impact of the Second World War on the gay and lesbian community, advocacy and activism see Paul Jackson, One of the Boys: Homosexuality and the Military during WWII (Montreal: McGill- Queen’s University Press, 2004); Margaret Cruikshank, The Gay and Lesbian Liberation Movement (New York: Routledge, 1992); Claude Dufour, “Analysis of Gay and Lesbian Social Movements and Activism in the USA, Australia and Canada” (PhD diss., University of Chicago at Illinois, 1992).

13 Warner, Never Going Back, 66.

14 In her book Political Institutions and Lesbian and Gay Rights in the United States and Canada, Miriam Smith argues that although Bill C-150 decriminalized private homosexual acts between consenting individuals over 21, the age of consent for homosexual acts was higher than for heterosexual acts and laws were used in other ways to pathologize and regulate homosexuals and homosexual acts. This persisted against the effort of those in the liberation movement to establish acceptance for homosexuals. See Miriam Smith, Political Institutions and Lesbian and Gay Rights in the United States and Canada (New York: Routledge, 2008): 37-41. For a discussion of standards of heteronormativity during the immediate post-Second World War period, see Mary Louise Adams, The Trouble with Normal: Postwar Youth and the Making of Heterosexuality (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997).

15 UTHA Correspondence Records, 1969-1972. UTHA papers, 1982-006/01, Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (Toronto).

16 GAYOKAY. UTHA papers, 1982-006/01, Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (Toronto).

17 Poster advertising Dr. Franklin Kameny’s lecture. UTHA papers, 1982-006/01, Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (Toronto). An early UTHA newsletter reported that a diverse group of nearly 300 people attended Dr. Kameny’s talk. After the lecture, attendees gave positive feedback on the topic and presentation. UTHA Newsletter, no. 1 (April 1970). UTHA papers, 1982-006/01, Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (Toronto).

18 McLeod, Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada, 45. For a closer look at the aims, goals and significance of The Body Politic see Ed Jackson and Stan Persky, ed., Flaunting It! A Decade of Gay Journalism from the Body Politic (Toronto: Pink Triangle Press, 1982); Warner, Never Going Back, 69-70.

19 Donald W. McLeod, “George Hislop,” in Who’s Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History, 189-90; Warner, Never Going Back, 59-67.

20 Syd Elkind, “Gays Come Out,” Varsity (Toronto, ON), October 15, 1980: 7, 10.

21 After the Second World War there was increasing attention paid by academic and legal scholars to the existence of homosexuals as a permanent sub-group in society. The Kinsey Reports revealed publicly throughout North America that same-sex sexuality was much more prevalent than had been previously imagined. Dufour, “Analysis of Gay and Lesbian Social Movements and Activism in the USA, Australia and Canada,”250. In an effort to debunk the myths and stereotypes associated with homosexuality, early UTHA literature referenced Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and other academic writings, including scholarship from sociology and psychology. UTHA Newsletter, no. 1 (April 1970). UTHA papers, 1982-006/01, Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (Toronto). For a more focused discussion of the role of studies of sexuality in academia see Susan Talburt, Subject to Identity: Knowledge, Sexuality, and Academic Practices in Higher Education (New York: State University of New York Press, 2000).