Canadian Queer History


What is a milestone? It is often defined as an important event in the history of something or if you were to go literal, it is a marker at the side of the road showing the distance to a particular place. In our Queer history, we like to think that the timeline of milestones uses both definitions. Here you will find not only important events that were tipping points, important steps on the road to rights and representation, but also you can find a sense of how long ago and how recently some of the events that have shaped our community have happened.

We often lose the memory of how recent some of these battles have been fought, once we have gained a measure of peace. It is important we never forget these points in our history that have shaped the world we are in today.

Explore the milestones in Canadian queer history.

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Politics & Politicians

Decriminalization of homosexuality

On May 14, 1969 Canada decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults with the passage of the Criminal Law Amendment Act first introduced in December 1968. It receives royal assent on June 27. One day before the Stonewall Riots took place in New York.

Grassroots / Protest, Riots & Raids

1971 First Gay Rights Protest - queer hisotry - gay rights protest ottawa 1971
Media Credit: Ottawa Journal

On August 28, 1971, roughly 100 people from Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and the surrounding areas gathered in the pouring rain at Parliament Hill for Canada’s First Gay Liberation Protest and March. They presented a petition to the government with a list of ten demands for equal rights and protections.

Simultaneously, another much smaller group of roughly twenty gay activists demonstrated at Robson Square in Vancouver.


Pride Week '73 Emergence & shift to gay liberation

Pride Week 1973 was a national LGBT rights event held in August 1973 in several Canadian cities, including Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. Programming included an art festival, a dance, picnic, a screening of a documentary and a rally for gay rights that occurred in all the participating cities.

This event represented the shift from the homophile movement into the gay liberation movement, showing the emergence of the concept of gay pride.


First Society for Queer Deaf people formed

In July, Raymond Barton, Bonnie Perry and Randy Vivian founded the York Rainbow Society of the Deaf. This was the first group for Queer Deaf people formed in Canada. The formation of this group is followed by L’Association des Bonnes Gens Sourds in October 1979 (Montreal).

Protest, Riots & Raids

Tipping Point: Operation Soap Police Raids - queer history - operation soap banner
Media Credit: Queer Events

On Feb. 5, 1981 Toronto police stormed four gay bathhouses in the city as part of what they called "Operation Soap," and arrested just under 300 men. For the majority, charges were later dropped or dismissed.

Rallies were held in response to the injustice and to this day it is often referred to as Canada’s Stonewall.

To this day, "Operation Soap" is one of the largest mass arrests in Canada and it was 35 years later in 2016 that Toronto's police chief formally apologized for the raids.

Politics & Politicians

First openly gay member of canadian parliament

British Columbia MP Svend Robinson came out as Canada's first openly gay member of parliament. Robinson publicly announced he was gay during an interview with CBC reporter Barbara Frum.

Robinson was the lone publicly gay MP for another six years, until Quebecois Réal Ménard came out in 1994, followed by B.C. MP Libby Davies who was the first lesbian to come out in 2001.


Two Spirit (niizh manidoowag) is coined - queer history - Two Spirit (niizh manidoowag) is coined
Media Credit: Two-Spirit Archives

The term Two Spirit (niizh manidoowag) is coined at the third annual Native American/First Nations Gay and Lesbian Conference in Winnipeg.

The term allows Indigenous LGBTQ+ folks to reject other English terms that impose the Western views of gender and sexuality on indigenous people.

Politics & Politicians

Same-sex couples gain legal adoption rights in Ontario

An Ontario Court judge finds that the Child and Family Services Act of Ontario infringes Section 15 of the Charter by not allowing same-sex couples to bring a joint application for adoption. Concluding that “I cannot imagine a more blatant example of discrimination,”

Justice Nevins ruled that the definition of “spouse” should be amended to include partners of the same sex and that the four lesbians have the right to adopt their partner’s children.

On May 24, 1995 Ontario becomes the first province to make it legal for same-sex couples to adopt. British Columbia, Alberta and Nova Scotia follow suit, also allowing adoption by same-sex couples. Other provinces are looking into the issue.

Politics & Politicians

Sexual orientation included in Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Supreme Court rules on 25 May, 1995 on the case involving Jim Egan and Jack Nesbit, two gay men who sued Ottawa for the right to claim a spousal pension under the Old Age Security Act. The court rules against Egan and Nesbit. However, the Court ruled that Section 15 of the Charter — which guarantees the "right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination" — should include sexual orientation, even though it is not specifically named in the section.

Politics & Politicians

Bill C-33: Sexual Orientation included in Canadian Human Rights Act

Receiving royal assent on June 20, 1996, the federal government passed Bill C-33, adding "sexual orientation" to the Canadian Human Rights Act which covers federally-regulated activities. Parliament enacted Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act, to include sexual orientation among the Act’s prohibited grounds of discrimination.

Bill C-33 had the effect of codifying the law as stated in the Ontario Court of Appeal’s Haig (1992) decision and since practised by the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

This inclusion was a clear declaration by Parliament that gay, lesbian and bisexual Canadians are entitled to "an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives they are able and wish to have [...]"

Grassroots / Arts, Culture, Media

Blockorama: First Black Queer Space at Toronto Pride - queer history - Blockorama
Media Credit: Queer Events

In 1999 Blockorama made its appearance as the very first black queer space in the Toronto pride festival. Today it is an all day dance party and stage during Pride to celebrate Black Queer and Trans history, creativity and activism.

Blocko shows us that we are not alone, that we are resilient and [that] we know how to have fun in a [world] where we were never meant to survive.

Kyisha Williams, event organizer
Protest, Riots & Raids

Tipping Point: Pussy Palace Raids - queer history - 2000 pussy palace raids
Media Credit: Queer Events

On September 14, six male officers from the Toronto Police raided Club Toronto during an all-female queer and trans event known as the “Pussy Palace.” This event resulted in protests and pickets of the Toronto police's 52 Division.

In 2002, an Ontario provincial court judge ruled that police were wrong to raid the party and a 2005 class action lawsuit  and complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission resulted in a $350,000 settlement which included a formal apology in writing and required the force to establish cultural competency training for all members regarding the LGBT community.

Politics & Politicians

Little Sisters’ Win for Freedom of Expression

Little Sisters Bookstore in Vancouver launched a constitutional challenge over its treatment at the hands of Canada Customs, which had been delaying and holding shipments from the US. The Book and Art Emporium claimed Customs was purposefully targeting them.

The Supreme Court agreed in a ruling on December 15, 2000 that the actions by Canada Customs were targeting Little Sisters and Justice Ian Binnie stated "when Customs officials prohibit and thereby censor lawful gay and lesbian erotica, they are making a statement about gay and lesbian culture, and the statement was reasonably interpreted by the appellants as demeaning gay and lesbian values".

The problem persists, however, with gay bookstores alleging that Customs guards disproportionately cite the Supreme Court's 1992 Butler decision against gay and lesbian publications which ruled that material containing scenes of sex mixed with violence and cruelty could be seized.

Trailblazers, Activists

Same-sex Couple Marry in Ontario - queer history - same sex marriage ontario 2003

Michael Leshner and Michael Stark became the first same-sex couple to be issued a marriage license and marry in Toronto, Ontario after the ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeals.

The unanimous Court found that the exclusion of same-sex couples was a clear violation of the Charter of Rights & Freedoms, the court ruling allowing same-sex couples to marry would take effect immediately.

In the next two years, seven provinces and one territories also legalized same-sex marriage B.C (2003) Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, Quebec, Yukon (2004), and New Brunswick (2005).

Politics & Politicians

Bill C-38: Civil Marriage Act

Bill C-38 bill became federal law which gave same-sex couples the legal right to marry. This made Canada the fourth country in the world to allow same-sex marriage. Official Legislative summary:

'This enactment extends the legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes to same-sex couples in order to reflect values of tolerance, respect and equality, consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also makes consequential amendments to other Acts to ensure equal access for same-sex couples to the civil effects of marriage and divorce'


Olympics gets a Pride House - queer history - 2010 olympic pride house

British Columbia was the host to the 2010 Winter Olympics, for the first time, the Olympic games included the Pride House for LGBT athletes.

Trailblazers, Activists

Angela James is Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame - queer history milestones - angela james

Angela James was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010, becoming the first openly gay player, and only the second black athlete to ever be inducted.

Angela James aka "the Wayne Gretzky of women's hockey" among many other achievements led the Canadian women’s hockey team to four world championships (1990, 1992, 1994, and 1997).

James has been a dominant force in promoting and inspiring women and young girls in sports, each year the CWHL awards the highest scoring player the Angela James Bowl. In 2009 the city of Toronto renamed her hometown hockey arena the Angela James Arena to honour her contributions and work within the local community.

Politics & Politicians / Trailblazers, Activists

Kathleen Wynne: First open LGBT Premier - queer history - first lgbt premier - katheleen wynne

Kathleen Wynne wins the leadership of the governing Ontario Liberal Party on the 3rd ballot in its leadership election. Wynne is formally sworn into office on February 11, becoming both Ontario's first female Premier and Canada's first openly LGBT Premier.

Politics & Politicians

Bill C-32: An Act to Amend the Civil Marriage Act

The federal government introduced Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Civil Marriage Act (otherwise known as the Civil Marriage of Non-residents Act), in February 2012. The bill allows for people who married in Canada because same-sex marriage isn’t allowed where they live, to get a divorce from a Canadian court. Bill C-32 received Royal Assent on 26 June 2013.


2nd International Asexuality Conference - History - Ace Conference 2014 Toronto

The second-ever International Asexuality Conference took place at Ryerson University’s Rogers Communications Centre. This is the first Asexual conference and/gathering held in Canada.

As a part of World Pride, the conference covered various subtopics of asexuality including a history of asexuality and the asexual (ace) community, current research in asexuality, grey-asexuality, and demisexuality.

The First ever World Conference had been previously held in London, UK in 2012.

Politics & Politicians / Trailblazers, Activists

Alberta elects first non-binary politician - queer history - Estefan Cortes-Vargas

Estefan Cortes-Vargas (born 1991) is elected to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta becoming the first out non-binary politician. They are one of three out LGBT2Q+ people elected to the Alberta Legislature.

The Colombian born politician chose to not run for re-election in the 2019 elections.

Politics & Politicians / Community

2016 - Parliment Raises Pride Flag

For the first time in Canadian history, a pride flag is raised on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Politics & Politicians

Bill C-16: Canadian Human Rights Act expanded to Gender Identity & Expression

On June 19, Bill C-16 was passed by the federal government and received Royal Assent. The bill updated the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include the terms "gender identity" and "gender expression." The legislation also makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression.

It also extends hate speech laws to include the two terms, and makes it a hate crime to target someone for being transgender. The bill also amends the sentencing principles section of the code so that a person's gender identity or expression can be considered an aggravating circumstance by a judge during sentencing.

Politics & Politicians

First transgender mayor elected - milestones in trans history - julie lemieux

Julie Lemieux won 48% of the vote to become Mayor of Très-Saint-Rédempteur, a municipality in the Montérégie region of Quebec.

This marked the first time a transgender person was elected as mayor in any municipality across Canada and the first female mayor in the history of Très-Saint-Rédempteur.

"We're writing history and I have a lot to offer."

Trailblazers, Activists

First trans person appointed judge in Canada - queer history - trans judge Kael McKenzie
Media Credit: Ian McCausland

Kael McKenzie (born 1971) is appointed to the Provincial Court of Manitoba making him the first transgender person appointed as a judge in Canada.

"I didn’t set out to be a trailblazer or to try to have courage. It just happened that way.

Kael McKenzie

He is a member of the Manitoba Métis Nation and has also served as the Manitoba chair of the Canadian Bar Association, and president of the provincial Rainbow Resource Centre for Manitoba's LGBT2Q+ community.

Science & Health

Blood Ban Reduced Not Elimated

Health Canada announces on May 8 that they will lower the blood donation deferral period, clearing gay and bisexual men to donate blood after abstaining from sex with other men for three months, instead of one year. They still refuse to eliminate the ban.

Science & Health

W.H.O declares transgender is not a mental disorder

On May 23, the World Health Organization (WHO) voted to remove 'transgender' from being designated a mental disorder.

The W.H.O will now use the term 'gender incongruence' to describe people whose gender identity is different from the gender they were assigned at birth. This term has been added to the sexual health category of the 11th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11).

Arts, Culture, Media

First Two-Spirit Archives in Canada Launches

University of Winnipeg launches the first Two-Spirit archives in Canada. The collection — mostly donated by long-time Winnipeg two-spirit activist Albert McLeod is believed to be the most comprehensive collection of two-spirit materials in Canada, The archives will be used by researchers, historians and two-spirit people to tell the story of the movement's 40-year history.

Community / Politics & Politicians

Intersex Flag Raised at City Hall - queer history - first intersex flag raised - city hall london ontario

Community group, Intersex London On lobbied the City of London to raise the Intersex flag at city hall for the first time in 2019 to mark Intersex Awareness Day (October 26th).

The City of Barrie also raised the intersex flag at City Hall on the same morning.

Politics & Politicians

Quebec Civil Code declared discriminatory against Trans community

On January 28th, Justice Gregory Moore of the Superior Court of Quebec declared six (6) provisions of the province's Civil Code unconstitutional.

Filed initially in 2014, the Centre for Gender Advocacy at Concordia University sought to invalidate 11 articles of the Quebec Civil Code, arguing that they violated rights under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Court deemed unconstitutional that the requirement that people can only be designated as either male or female. It also declared that trans parents have a right to change their designation on their children’s birth certificate and to be recognized as “parent” and not just “mother” or “father”.  It struck down the requirement to be a Canadian citizen in order to change one’s name or gender.  The Court also struck down the requirement for a medical evaluation for trans youth; however the Court unfortunately did not strike down the parental veto over name changes. Disappointingly, the Court did not strike down the requirement to designate a sex at birth without exception, including for intersex individuals.

Community / Politics & Politicians

First Intersex Crosswalk in Canada - queer history - first intersex crosswalk -  london ontario

In October 2021, the City of London, Ontario unveiled the first Intersex Flag crosswalk painted in Canada at the Central & Wellington St Intersection. Advocacy to the City of London for the painting of the crosswalk and representation for Intersex Awareness Day was part of the ongoing work of the Intersex Advocacy group - Intersex London Ontario led by Piper Kearney. 

Politics & Politicians

Bill C-4: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy)

Receiving Royal Assent on Dec 8, 2021, Bill C-4: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy) is passed into law. Bill C4 was the third attempt to criminalize conversion therapy with its predecessors Bill C-8 (43-1) and Bill C-6 (43-2) introduced by the Attorney General of Canada, David Lametti.

The bill defines conversion therapy as the “practice, treatment or service designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual, or to change a person’s gender identity to cisgender.” This legislation makes providing, promoting or advertising of conversion therapy a criminal offence through the creation of four new Criminal Code offences: (a) causing a person to undergo conversion therapy, (b) subjecting a minor to conversion therapy abroad, (c) profiting from the provision of conversion therapy and (d) advertising or promoting the practice, with penalties of two to five years in prison.

It also amends the Criminal Code to authorize courts to order that advertisements for conversion therapy be disposed of or deleted.

And whereas, in light of those harms, it is important to discourage and denounce the provision of conversion therapy in order to protect the human dignity and equality of all Canadians;

Preamble, Bill C-4 (Royal Assent) December 8, 2021

Conversion Therapy was already banned to different degrees in Ontario, Manitoba, Vancouver, Quebec, Yukon, Nova Scotia and PEI. This bill will ensure it is banned nationwide.

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