Pierre Elliott Trudeau: The patron saint of Pride

By patti dawn swansson

I get the warm-and-fuzzies for Pierre Elliott Trudeau at this time every year.

That’s because I’m old enough to recall the Great Gay Debate of the late 1960s, when I was fresh-faced, freshly scrubbed, fresh out of high school and full of fresh ideas.

Also fresh was Trudeau, our nation’s soon-to-be prime minister.

Most gay people of my vintage can tell you that it was PET who, as federal justice minister in December 1967, declared that Big Brother had no business peeking into our boudoirs.

patti dawn swansson
patti dawn swansson

There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” Trudeau explained after introducing bill C-150 to Parliament, an initiative that would, among other things, lead to the decriminalization of homosexuality.

Thus, thanks to plucky Pierre, gay men no longer are being hauled off to the hoosegow for being gay men. For this I shall be forever grateful to PET, because my dearest male friends are gay and I’d rather visit them at Swan’s or Browns than at a federal penitentiary.

I bring this to your attention because we are approaching Pride Week  in Victoria, an appropriate time to gauge the distance the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender collective has traveled in its quest for equal rights.

To provide a pinch of perspective, let’s retreat to1960s Canada:

  • Homosexuality was a crime.
  • Homosexuality officially was a mental illness.
  • Homosexuals were viewed as a threat to national security.
  • Gay men were the subject of an RCMP witch hunt that resulted in thousands of civil servants and military personnel losing their jobs simply because they were suspected or confirmed to be gay.
  • During the Great Gay Debate, members of parliament actually stood in the House of Commons and, without reprimand or sanction, told the nation that homosexuals were “predators” and “really sick.” One MP declared that homosexuality was something that “spreads like a plague.”

MP Erik Nielsen summed up the ‘sky-is-falling’ mentality of the day by saying, “The basis of this legislation is the Prime Minister’s belief that homosexuals will behave like gentlemen. If homosexuals behaved like gentlemen they would not be homosexuals.”

Sounds like fiction or fantasy, doesn’t it? But it’s true, kids. You can’t make up stuff up like the Fruit Machine, which was (supposedly) a gay-detecting contraption used by the RCMP—and funded by our Peeping Tom federal government—to determine who was and wasn’t gay. Turns out, however, that the Fruit Machine was simply a bit of eye-popping stupidity.

I mean, really. You plop some poor sap into a chair, hook him up to a goofy gadget, show him some porno pics, watch his pupils dilate (or not) and you can determine if he likes boys or girls? As if.

Thus, for those of you who wonder why Victoria’s LGBT collective stages a flamboyant, rainbow-feathered celebration the first week of July each year, consider where we were and where we are.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

We no longer are criminals. We officially have ceased to be mentally ill. We now marry. We raise families. We serve in our military, our government and the RCMP. Our affections are no longer closeted. We actually hold hands and—egads!—smooch in public. A transgender woman, Jenna Talackova of Vancouver, was a contestant in the Miss Universe Canada pageant.

So, yes, we celebrate. We celebrate societal gains, diversity, acceptance, true self and the day Pierre Trudeau booted Big Brother’s butt out of our boudoirs.

Here’s to you, Pierre, the Patron Saint of Pride.


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