The Pride Report

Hundreds Protest for Gay Rights in Moose Jaw (1978)

 
In 1978, a rally against homophobia took place in Crescent Park, Moose Jaw. This still is from the short film “Gay Liberation” (1978) which is available at the Saskatchewan Archives Board. The following excerpt is taken from “Surprisingly Unexpected: Moose Jaw, Metronormativity and LGBTQ Activism,” a Master’s Thesis completed at York University by Joe Wickenhauser.
 
On May 16, 1978, Lynn McLeod, a Saskatoon resident and board member of the Saskatchewan Gay Coalition (SGC), announced in the Moose Jaw Times Herald (MJTH) that a demonstration would be staged in Moose Jaw to protest the upcoming rally of infamous anti-gay crusader, Anita Bryant. The anonymous MJTH reporter concluded this brief article suggesting that the “undersigned” of a 36-name petition submitted to Moose Jaw’s City Council had not actually signed the letter itself. [1] It was not until 10 days after the rally that a city clerk would tersely respond to the petition: “City Council […] considered your letter concerning the above rally, and adopted a Motion that your letter be received and filed.” The emptiness of the letter is interrupted once more by the city’s insignia and its official slogan trailing the bottom of the page: “The Friendly City.” [2]
 
Hidden-Histories-Reception-Poster-v.2
Bryant was an outspoken evangelical Christian activist who used her popularity as the Florida Oranges spokesperson to encourage others to fight the legal protection of gays and lesbians, especially in the context of the public school system. The Gay Community Centre of Saskatoon’s newsletter, GAZE, described Bryant as embodying “a typical American success story: Small-town girl from a broken home wins Oklahoma beauty title, is a Miss America runner-up and turns that into a lucrative career as a singer and super-saleswoman.” [3] In 1977, Bryant established an organization called “Save Our Children” that was instrumental in overturning the recently established legal protections for gays and lesbians in Dade County, Florida where she resided. [4] Following her successful campaign in Florida, Bryant began performing for audiences across the United States and later into Canada. [5]
 
According to Tom Warner, gay and lesbian activists had been preparing for Bryant’s eventual Canadian tour since 1977, when a “Coalition to Stop Anita Bryant” was formed in Toronto. [6] By the end of April 1978, Bryant had performed for crowds in Peterborough, Winnipeg and Edmonton prompting the “strongest resistance yet by Canadian lesbians and gay men” drawing 150, 350 and 300 protesters respectively. [7]
 

Although Bryant’s controversial stances drew throngs of protesters beyond gay and lesbian activists, her appearances in Edmonton and Peterborough resulted in those cities’ first protests related to lesbian and gay issues. [8]

 
While it is not clear who approached whom, the MJTH reported that Bryant’s “Christian Liberation” rally would be hosted by Moose Jaw’s Fellowship for Evangelism, an association of evangelical churches with an estimated membership of around 3,000 parishioners. The president of this group, Reverend Henry Friesen of Moose Jaw’s Westmount Baptist Church, coordinated this event with Renaissance International, the Toronto-based organization facilitating Bryant’s Canadian tour. In the article, Friesen announced his opposition to homosexual teachers in the public school system and decried the “militant fringe of the gay community” for making “noise” against Bryant. [9]
 
On May 23, 1978, the first day following the Prairie Gay Conference on gay and lesbian activism in Saskatoon, an initial meeting was held to form the Coalition to Answer Anita Bryant (CAAB). [10] On June 1, 1978, the MJTH reported that the CAAB held a public meeting in Saskatoon attended by 12 community groups including university student unions, women’s groups, men’s groups and religious organizations from Regina and Saskatoon as well as various gay groups across the province including the SGC. [11] After Stonewall, a gay and lesbian newsmagazine based in Winnipeg, mentioned that “Moose Jaw will now be approached as part of the work of answering Anita Bryant.” [12]
 
The MJTH reported that on June 10, 1978 about 22 people met at Moose Jaw’s YM-YWCA to help form a local response to Bryant’s “Christian Liberation” rally. The Moose Jaw Women’s Centre and the local chapter of the Saskatchewan Association of Human Rights co-sponsored the meeting, which was reportedly attended by people from Saskatoon, Regina, Prince Albert and Moose Jaw. One of the CAAB’s primary organizers, Doug Wilson, revealed the group’s strategy to avoid appearing as outside agitators through fomenting local involvement: “The onus will be on Moose Jaw people to get people to write letters, be out on July 1, approach the labor council, churches, whatever.” The faithful transcription of Wilson’s “whatever” is juxtaposed with an unflattering photo of three youthful activists with mouths open and eyes half-closed. [13]
 
Wilson, who grew up on a farm near Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, was reputedly “the most openly gay person for at least a thousand miles.” As an education student at the U of S, Wilson launched a high-profile sex-discrimination complaint against the university in 1975 that received national media attention. Wilson was also a founding member of the Saskatoon-based SGC, whose explicit goals were to connect rural and small-town gays and lesbians to a province-wide movement through its newsletter, political action and education. [14]
 
doug_wilson-body_politicDoug Wilson appears on the cover of Canada’s most prominent gay newspaper from the 1970s.
 
Perhaps in response to Wilson’s efforts to appear local, the MJTH reported on June 27, 1978, that Bryant’s visit “was drawing considerable interest in Saskatoon” with 9 letters on the topic sent to Moose Jaw’s City Council. However, excerpts from the letters in the article show their author’s attempts to frame the event as a political issue abhorrent to all of Saskatchewan’s residents. One such letter from Dr. D.C. Williams, a Liberal candidate for a Saskatoon constituency, argued that the negative impact of Bryant’s visit would be felt beyond Moose Jaw, extending to his own electorate. [15]
 
Just one day prior to Bryant’s visit, the MJTH interviewed Elaine Julian from the Moose Jaw Women’s Centre and local CAAB coordinator. Primarily discussing the details of the event, Julian assures Moose Javians that “the group has permission to conduct both the march and the service” and announces her low expectations for the turnout. Tellingly, Julian does not disclose her sexual orientation. [16]
 
On the day of the rally, between 150 and several hundred protesters converged upon Moose Jaw, including a busload of activists from Saskatoon. [17] [18] The MJTH estimated that about 85 protesters met at Moose Jaw’s C.P. Rail station at noon and marched with a police escort down Main Street then Athabasca Street to Crescent Park. [19] According to an SGC newsletter and a video of the demonstration, protestors “maintain[ed] a loud verbal onslaught all the way” [20] chanting solidarity slogans in unison such as “Women, workers, gays unite—same struggle, same fight. Gay rights now!” [21]
 
Documenting this visible display, a number of photographs of the march accompany the MJTH article on the CAAB. One portrays a shirtless man, with a brown paper bag on his head holding a placard that angrily demands, “When can I take this off!?” A woman wearing large sunglasses marches behind him. Another, taken from behind, depicts two men and a woman walking down the street with arms wrapped around each other. In both photos, buildings from Moose Jaw’s downtown, barely visible, peek out from behind placards and the SGC’s proud banner. [22]
 
Gay Supporters Demonstrate PeacefullyArticle from the Moose Jaw Times Herald, July 3, 1978.
 
In Crescent Park, protesters conspicuously doubled in number as U of S Campus Chaplain and Anglican Reverend Colin Clay led an interfaith celebration denouncing Bryant’s monopoly on God. [23] The service concluded with demonstrators linked arm in arm singing “Love Shall Overcome.” [24] The event in the park heard presentations from a variety of groups from Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Winnipeg as well as musical performances from Regina and Moose Jaw-based artists. [25] [26] Following the event, some demonstrators attended a party sponsored by one of the SGC’s “Moose Jaw friends” although the Saskatoon bus was scheduled to depart at 6:00 PM, strategically avoiding direct confrontation with Bryant’s Christian Liberation rally slated to begin at 8:00 PM. [27] [28]
 
In his memoirs, “out” gay activist and U of S professor Peter Millard notes that a handful of protesters remained for the Bryant concert. Millard recalls Bryant conjuring tears, singing spiritual songs (including “God Bless America”) and talking in graphic detail about the birth of her children. Yet for Millard, the evening reached its climax when two protesters with “arms around each other, […] walked the width of the arena, creating a shock wave that spread through the whole audience and left Anita singing to herself.” [29] Millard’s dramatic portrayal of this affectionate display between Saskatoon activists plays on images of small town homophobia and urban demands for tolerance.
 
In an article titled “Message of God’s love presented to crowd at Christian liberation rally,” the MJTH reported that between 2,000 and 2,300 people attended Bryant’s 45 minute performance where she discussed her views on religion, children and the family. The subject of homosexuality, however, is strikingly absent from the article. An accompanying photograph depicts Bryant in a sleeveless dress, firmly shaking hands with a smiling young man while holding a microphone and a Bible in the other. [30]
 
With so much controversy surrounding Bryant’s visit and the counter-demonstration, the city seemed to be on high alert over the possibility of a violent confrontation. The MJTH article on the counter-demonstration seemed almost incredulous at the lack of violence with the headline “Gay supporters demonstrate peacefully against Anita Bryant.” In addition to the police escort at the CAAB march, the MJTH reported that at least ten officers were counted at Bryant’s performance. [31] Millard also observed the soaring tension sparked by visibility activism when an officer threatened to arrest his group if they continued their verbal dissent at Bryant’s rally. [32]
 
The MJTH article on the protest concluded with Wilson’s assessment of the CAAB as very successful, especially for Moose Jaw’s first “gay demonstration.” The MJTH’s sympathetic treatment of the protest here seems to reflect the way organizers were able to shift the debate from sexual difference to religious difference. The accompanying image of Clay, dressed in full priestly garb lent respectable religious credibility to the protest in a way that other gay activists could not. [33]
 
On July 7, 1978 two lengthy letters to the editor were published in the MJTH. One letter supporting Bryant’s stance describes how this event ties the city to a larger movement of Christian activism. [34] The other letter, attributed to Patricia Spaeth, includes conspicuous details of the protest without confirming the author’s attendance or her own sexual orientation. While Spaeth argues that she disagrees completely with what Bryant has to say, she suggests that both sides are entitled to the right to expression: “as long as we can have two peaceable rallies in town, we’ll be alright.” [35]

This article is copyright Joe Wickenhauser, 2012.

References

1. “Gays Plan M.J. Meeting,” Moose Jaw Times Herald (MJTH), May 16, 1978, Subject File on Homosexuality (SFH), Moose Jaw Public Library Archive (MJPLA), Moose Jaw.

2. Moose Jaw City Clerk to Barbara Bloom (President of the Coalition to Answer Anita Bryant), July 11, 1978, Neil Richards Papers (NR), A821.VI.1, Saskatchewan Gay Coalition, Anita Bryant, 1977-1978, Saskatchewan Archives Board (SAB), Saskatoon.

3. Newsletter, GAZE, August 78, NR, A595.II.76, Publications, Gay Community Centre of Saskatoon, 1974-1978, SAB, Saskatoon.

4. Fetner, Tina. 2001. Working Anita Bryant: The Impact of Christian Anti-Gay Activism on Lesbian and Gay Movement Claims. Social Problems 48(3):411-428.

5. Warner, Tom. 2002. Never Going Back: A History of Queer Activism in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

6. Coincidentally, Tom Warner was also one of the founding members of Saskatoon’s Zodiac Society, one of the city’s first homophile groups (Korinek 2003).

7. “Bryant hits Canada; Canada hits back,” The Body Politic, May 1978, No. 43, NR, A821.VI.1, Saskatchewan Gay Coalition, Anita Bryant, 1977-1978, SAB, Saskatoon.

8. “Bryant hits Canada; Canada hits back,” The Body Politic, May 1978, No. 43, NR, A821.VI.1, Saskatchewan Gay Coalition, Anita Bryant, 1977-1978, SAB, Saskatoon.

9. “Bryant Rally Stirring Up Controversy in Moose Jaw,” MJTH, June 24, 1978, SFH, MJPLA, Moose Jaw.

10. Saskatchewan Gay Coalition to Membership, May 23, 1978, NR, A821.VI.2.a, Saskatchewan Gay Coalition, Correspondence 1977-1982, SAB, Saskatoon.

11. “Rally Plans Struck Saturday to ‘Answer Anita Bryant,’” MJTH, June 12, 1978, SFH, MJPLA, Moose Jaw.

12. Walter Davis, “A Spirit of Unity,” After Stonewall: A Critical Journal of Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Prairie Canada, Summer 1978, No. 6, NR, A595.II.2, Publications, SAB, Saskatoon.

13. “Rally Plans Struck Saturday to ‘Answer Anita Bryant,’” MJTH, June 12, 1978, SFH, MJPLA, Moose Jaw.

14. Korinek, Valerie J. 2003. ‘The most openly gay person for at least a thousand miles’: Doug Wilson and the Politicization of a Province, 1975-83. The Canadian Historical Review 84(4):1-19. According to Valerie Korinek (2003), Wilson was also the president of the Gay Community Centre of Saskatoon at this time. Wilson would later serve as the Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Association of Human Rights from 1978 until his relocation to Toronto in 1983 where he ran as the first openly gay federal candidate in the city’s Rosedale riding. Wilson died of AIDS-induced pneumonia in 1992. Korinek, who completed a Ph.D. at the University of Toronto before taking up a position in the Department of History at the U of S, has written about the history of lesbian and gay activism in Saskatchewan. References to her fascinating work can be found in my bibliography.

15. “Bryant’s Opponents Continue Complaints,” MJTH, June 27, 1978, SFH, MJPLA, Moose Jaw.

16. “Rally Planned as Greeting for Bryant,” MJTH, June 30, 1978, SFH, MJPLA, Moose Jaw.

17. “150 March in Parade: Gay Supporters Demonstrate Peacefully Against Anita Bryant,” MJTH, July 3, 1978, SFH, MJPLA, Moose Jaw.

18. Peter Millard’s more generous estimate of several hundred protesters is found in his memoirs, “Or words to that effect” which were acquired by the University Saskatchewan Archives, Saskatoon. Three sections of these memoirs including “Anita Bryant’s 1978 Visit to Moose Jaw” are available online at http://library2.usask.ca/srsd/memoir_millard.php?part=abmj#abmj.

19. “150 March in Parade: Gay Supporters Demonstrate Peacefully Against Anita Bryant,” MJTH, July 3, 1978, SFH, MJPLA, Moose Jaw.

20. Newsletter, GAZE, August 78, NR, A595.II.76, Publications, Gay Community Centre of Saskatoon, 1974-1978, SAB, Saskatoon.

21. “Video – ‘Gay Liberation,’ 1978,” NR, Saskatchewan Gay Coalition A821.VI.6, SAB, Saskatoon.

22. “150 March in Parade: Gay Supporters Demonstrate Peacefully Against Anita Bryant,” MJTH, July 3, 1978, SFH, MJPLA, Moose Jaw.

23. “150 March in Parade: Gay Supporters Demonstrate Peacefully Against Anita Bryant,” MJTH, July 3, 1978, SFH, MJPLA, Moose Jaw.

24. “Video – ‘Gay Liberation,’ 1978,” NR, Saskatchewan Gay Coalition A821.VI.6, SAB, Saskatoon.

25. “150 March in Parade: Gay Supporters Demonstrate Peacefully Against Anita Bryant,” MJTH, July 3, 1978, SFH, MJPLA, Moose Jaw.

26. Newsletter, GAZE, August 78, NR, A595.II.76, Publications, Gay Community Centre of Saskatoon, 1974-1978, SAB, Saskatoon.

27. Newsletter, GAZE, August 78, NR, A595.II.76, Publications, Gay Community Centre of Saskatoon, 1974-1978, SAB, Saskatoon.

28. Event flyer, NR, A595 II.34, Publications, Coalition to Answer Anita Bryant, 1978, SAB, Saskatoon.

29. Millard, Peter, “Anita Bryant’s 1978 Visit to Moose Jaw,” found in “Or words to that effect,” accessed October 27, 2012, http://library2.usask.ca/srsd/memoir_millard.php?part=abmj#abmj.

30. “Message of God’s Love Presented to Crowd at Christian Liberation Rally,” MJTH, July 3, 1978, SFH, MJPLA, Moose Jaw.

31. “150 March in Parade: Gay Supporters Demonstrate Peacefully Against Anita Bryant,” MJTH, July 3, 1978, SFH, MJPLA, Moose Jaw.

32. Millard, Peter, “Anita Bryant’s 1978 Visit to Moose Jaw,” found in “Or words to that effect,” accessed October 27, 2012, http://library2.usask.ca/srsd/memoir_millard.php?part=abmj#abmj.

33. “150 March in Parade: Gay Supporters Demonstrate Peacefully Against Anita Bryant,” MJTH, July 3, 1978, SFH, MJPLA, Moose Jaw.

34. E. Sanderson, letter to the editor, MJTH, July 6, 1978, SFH, MJPLA, Moose Jaw.

35. Patricia Spaeth, letter to the editor, MJTH, July 6, 1978, SFH, MJPLA, Moose Jaw.

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