News / Toronto

Ryerson University helps LGBTQ history come out of the closet

The collection includes Canadian activist shirts from the '70s, tabloids documenting arrests and ads for early establishments

Gay and lesbian icons such as singer Carole Pope are honoured in a collection of portraits.

Torstar News Service

Gay and lesbian icons such as singer Carole Pope are honoured in a collection of portraits.

While the city celebrates Pride, volunteers at Ryerson University are working diligently to digitize one of the world’s largest archives of LGBTQ history.

Kevin Manuel, a data and sociology librarian at Ryerson, and a team of volunteers and students are carefully scanning materials from the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA) to preserve them for future generations and make them accessible through a new website scheduled to launch in the fall.

A meeting place for gay activists since its opening in 1970 and right up to today, the archive has the Church Street icon's early years.

Torstar News Service

A meeting place for gay activists since its opening in 1970 and right up to today, the archive has the Church Street icon's early years.

“The digital revolution gives us the opportunity to bring some of this material out of the closet and to a wider audience, whether it’s researchers, students or the public,” Manuel said.

The team has already captured images of activist t-shirts and buttons going back to the 1970s, and is working to upload images of matchbooks from gay and lesbian businesses dating back to the 1950s.

Unique to the CLGA is a collection of tabloid magazines from the pre-Stonewall era documenting the arrest of gay Canadians and the homophobic attitudes of the time.

After the 1981 Bathhouse raids in Toronto, a bolder, more colourful activism emerged — captured in the CLGA’s collection of t-shirts and buttons.

Torstar News Service

After the 1981 Bathhouse raids in Toronto, a bolder, more colourful activism emerged — captured in the CLGA’s collection of t-shirts and buttons.

“Gay people were not always visible like they are today and in the pre-Internet era, it was a very isolated and alienating experience,” Manuel said. “In the tabloid collection, we can see the early voices coming out through editorials arguing against the criminalization of homosexuality.”

The archives tell the story of gay businesses, many of which were bars and nightclubs, which were the incubators for 40 years of protest and lobbying for LGBTQ rights, Manuel said.

“I think it is important for people to know where we came from and what was done to get us here.”

The onetime Canadian light welterweight boxer won a silver medal at the 1992 Olympics before coming out in 1994. The archives hold a pair of his boxing shorts.

The Canadian Press

The onetime Canadian light welterweight boxer won a silver medal at the 1992 Olympics before coming out in 1994. The archives hold a pair of his boxing shorts.

One of the city’s earliest gay establishments, menus and ads for the St. Charles Tavern are part of the archive’s collection of artifacts documenting gay meeting places.

Courtesy CLGA

One of the city’s earliest gay establishments, menus and ads for the St. Charles Tavern are part of the archive’s collection of artifacts documenting gay meeting places.

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