From Criminality to Equality: 40 Years of Lesbian and Gay Movement History in Canada
I was around eight years old when I went to my first Pride parade with my mom and her girlfriend. I was fourteen when my mom went on national television for a campaign demanding the right to marry for lesbians and gays. And I was twenty-five when I married my long-term girlfriend within months of same-sex marriages becoming legal in my country. In many ways, the struggles for social equality and equal rights for LGBTQ people have been tied to key events in my life, and these days at Pride, as a thirty-two year old, I often feel like an old timer, like a living, breathing embodiment of history.
I know every detail of key steps in the lesbian and gay rights movement since the late 1970s because they have been a part of me. But when I say I know every detail, I mean every detail of the German lesbian and gay rights movement. When I moved to Canada a few years ago, I realized that I knew virtually nothing about how these struggles have played out in my new home.
Nancy Nicol’s film series From Criminality to Equality closed that gap in knowledge for me. On four DVDs with a total playing time of over six hours, Nicol chronicles the history of the lesbian and gay rights movement in Canada. Starting with the struggles over anti-discrimination clauses in the Human Rights Act in the 1970s and '80s, to the fight over marriage equality in the late 1990s and early 2000s, wach DVD focuses on separate issues within a certain timeframe. When watching the entire series, the interconnectedness of these issues through time becomes very apparent. Key individuals of the lesbian and gay rights movement appear again and again, and the films show a clear progression of issues from the step out of criminality to societal and legal recognition of same-sex relationships. Each film is jam-packed with information, and while some segments are a bit lengthy, the series provides an enlightening summary of the past forty years of LGBTQ history in Canada.
The most moving of the four DVDs for me was Politics of the Heart, which portrays lesbian and gay families in Quebec as they fight for equal parenting rights. Not only did it remind me of my own history growing up with two mothers, it also presented a perspective the other three films lacked. It reminded the viewer that even in times when lesbian and gay people didn’t have the same rights as heterosexuals, we found unique and often very creative ways to live our lives and live them well. Politics of the Heart shows that queer families existed in spite of not being recognized by law or the broader society. As one friend put it: “I would have liked to have seen less about the fights and more about our alternative lives. We don’t just exist in opposition to heterosexuals.”
While it is certainly important to remember and highlight that the path to equality has been a bumpy one, as someone who has lived, breathed, and been defined by the struggles for LGBTQ equal rights, the film series missed an opportunity for showcasing one of the key features of that distinguishes the lesbian and gay rights movement from many other social movements: that we love who we love, not in opposition to something, but in embracing who we are and what makes us happy.