Canadian Gay Movement: History of Activism
Introduction for Canadian Gay Movement
I came to Canada in January 1969 directly from Cornell University, where I had completed my BSc. Degree. During my final year at Cornell a number of major events happened. Academically I accepted the fact that I would not go on to graduate school since I lacked both a clear academic direction and funding.
In my last two years at University, after coming out, I allowed myself the greatest possible breadth to the sort of subjects I enrolled in. I took them because I already had a sense they would fire my imagination and desire to learn more. None of them would lead to a “career” but they all nurtured intellectual interests that have lasted a lifetime.
To a career oriented undergrad they may have looked like academic suicide. Such diverse subjects as paleontology, animal behaviour, Chinese Art, forestry, bee keeping, musicology courses in J.S. Bach and opera, and relevant to this introduction, a basic course in photography. Perhaps I already sensed that my life would mostly be given over to creating and sustaining the homosexual liberation movement. In my last year at Cornell creating the Student Homophile League and making it into a viable student group became my primary goal. The Cornell campus was politically alive with protests against the Vietnam War and my participation in several demonstrations helped develop my appreciation for public protest, something that would express itself over and over in the early years of the Canadian gay movement.
For the final project of my photography course I visited Toronto and took a few rolls of film, recording subject matter that caught my eye. Hopefully as I go though my negative archive I will find, rescue, and include a few images from that shoot.
After arriving in Toronto in early 1969 I kept taking pictures, mostly of the street life of the neighbourhood I lived in, including a few events like rock concerts and street parties. This was after all the height of the counterculture era. As I go through the archive I expect to find few worthy of uploading. Even if most of the pictures aren’t artistic masterpieces many capture the relaxed openness of that era. It was the ambience of the time that made me happy to be in Toronto and I found it easy to meet people and develop a circle of friends.
During the very first years of the movement in Toronto I assumed a conscious role of documentarian. Charlie Dobie, a professional photographer for the counterculture newspaper Guerilla and later for the Toronto Star chronicled many of the events of the early 1970s, but his activity was usually related to a work assignment. Once The Body Politic started up everyone realized we needed images to accompany news stories and articles, yet compared to the articles themselves little was spoken about the importance of visual material. Most of the time I just showed up at events, and then took my pictures in hopes that the paper would use some of my images and appreciate my contributions in this area.
At Collective meetings nearly all our time was spent around reading and discussing the written material. I suppose even I thought this seemed logical enough at the time, but in retrospect I can’t help but think that some members of the group consciously or unconsciously saw with the paper as a springboard for personal careers as writers and therefore gave little thought to presentation. In the early issues, not only did most of the photos come directly or indirectly from me, but also the graphics. Artwork used on the covers (such as the Michelangelo, the Botticelli, the Minoan women, the painting of Rimbaud) were chosen by me and came from my library. My housemate Amerigo Marras provided his own artwork that adorned the first few issues. These things were more or less taken for granted by the core members who saw themselves as writers.
Several of the photos used by Rick Bebout (another Canadian-American) in his gay history website contain photo acknowledgements such as “likely Moldenhauer” or “uncredited” or even “photo by Jearld Moldenhauer” when in fact I doubt the photo was actually taken by me. As a photographer I either remember each and every push of the shutter button or I at least have a keen sense of my own personal way of seeing. It is something you gain a feel for if you take enough pictures. Unfortunately it seems that Rick used every possible variation short of just contacting me to find out if a particular photo was indeed mine or not.
This no doubt has contributed to much unacknowledged use of my photos over the decades. One of the last times this phenomena repeated itself was in 2011 when Xtra ran an article as a lead up to the “We Demand” Conference held in Vancouver to reflect upon the 1971 Ottawa Demonstration.
It is clear to me that once an error or oversight gets into print it just perpetuates itself since the next journalist or lazy researcher simply accepts the first reference they come across. Rarely does anyone bother to seek out the source even if, in my case, I’m still alive, in the same town and only an email away. This has happened to me personally in a variety of ways, some of which this website will try to address.
After I left the Collective in 1974 the group no longer had either my images or input in such matters. It is not my place to comment on the course things took, but it is worth noting that it wasn’t until 1977 when Rick joined the group that the paper underwent a complete redesign, something that was seriously needed and no doubt contributed to the future success of The Body Politic. If you think about it there is some irony in this tale of two American immigrants.