Occupy Toronto's LGBT working group hosts a queer history tour in hopes of upping the scene's queer presence
Jordan Bond-Gorr of Occupy the Rainbow—a queer, trans, two-spirited working group of Occupy Toronto—doesn’t mind admitting that the Occupy movement requires more than a one-sentence summary to explain. It’s a controversial opinion, given the flack Occupiers have caught since the protest movement’s September inception, oft-repeated dismissals of the burgeoning wave as an unfocused, catch-all Pinko love-in. But Bond-Gorr offers an alternate interpretation.
“It’s about more than just banks,” he says. “[Occupy protesters] are talking about colonialism and systemic oppression. It’s about a history that’s been used to oppress people so that some can have the wealth at the expense of the others. There’s racism, there’s sexism, there’s homophobia, there’s transphobia. [The movement addresses] all those things that keep people from attaining shared benefit.”
Bond-Gorr’s Occupy analysis followed Sunday evening’s Sissy Stroll, an inaugural event for Occupy the Rainbow that led a dozen or so intrepid strollers around various queer history sites in the area surrounding Occupy Toronto’s primary headquarters at St. James Park, ending with hot cocoa and discussion in the camp’s Free Skool tent. Guided by Pride Toronto’s Roy Mitchell, the tour wasn’t explicitly Occupy-centric; one stop, for instance, included a tongue-in-cheek gaze at the homoerotic statue facade of Ryerson’s Chang School. But it was informative.
“I remember my friends telling me that [people] used to chain the swings together on playgrounds on Sundays so that people wouldn’t have fun,” says Mitchell of the WASPy Upper Canadian sensibilities that dominated Toronto into the 1970s, from which the early queer bar and arts scene provided a sense of much-needed refuge. “So, God love the queers.”
Other stops on Mitchell’s tour included the site of early gay bar Letros Tavern, on the other side of King Street from the King Edward hotel, and the Lesbian Organization of Toronto that was housed at 342 Jarvis in the late 1970s—institutions fuzzed with the passing of time. Early queer movements at the University of Toronto and kooky activist groups like the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence also received their due mention.
A primer on the queer community’s early transgressions against a puritanical Toronto the Good plays into the Occupy mentality like an interactive protest song, serving as a reminder of ongoing thrusts against the status quo. The parallels between queer rights struggles and the Occupy movement’s overarching clamor are why queer activist Kim Koyama thinks Occupy Toronto should have a stronger queer contingency.
“It’s about the disparities in our society and the system that’s broken,” says Koyama. “The real problem is that not enough people understand how and why it impacts us. It’s kind of disturbing to me that there isn’t more of a queer presence here.”
Bond-Gorr hopes to change this. More Occupy the Rainbow events are in the works, and weekly planning sessions are scheduled for Saturday mornings at 11:00a.m.