Dedicated by the Ontario Heritage Trust, this provincial plaque is the first of its kind to honour LGBT activism. “I believe this plaque is something that we should be proud of,” said Rosario Marchese, guest speaker and Trinity-Spadina MPP. “It's a symbolic way of acknowledging and honouring the sexual diversity activism that exists in our community, and I believe that we will eventually receive the full equality the LGBT community deserves.”
Gay activist and architect of the gay liberation movement Jerald Moldenhauer established the UTHA in October 1969. His move to found the association was influenced in part by amendments to the Canadian Criminal Code in that same year which decriminalized certain homosexual acts between consenting adults. It was not only the first gay organization at U of T, but one of the first of its kind in Canada.
“What the UTHA started was an almost continuous history of activism on this campus,” said David Rayside, Director of the Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at U of T. “There are very few – if any – institutions in this country than can claim as long a history of advocacy for LGBT issues. 1969 was an extraordinarily oppressive time for sexual minorities, so any organization of this type that was formed and had any kind of public face was an extraordinary achievement.”
Since the creation of UTHA, the U of T community continues to be a place where the recognition of gender minorities and sexual diversity is acknowledged and celebrated. From the earliest days of UTHA to what is now the LGBTOUT, the group has always been exceptionally vocal in their demands for social, legal, and political change.
“There's been huge change; absolutely enormous,” reflected Rayside. “There's been a tremendously positive shift in public attitudes, certainly from the 60s and 70s, and even over the last 20 years.”
Despite these vast improvements, many of which are tied directly to the work both accomplished and inspired by the UTHA, recent events demonstrate that, for the LGBT community, the fight for equality and acceptance is far from over. This past October not only saw the tragic suicide of Jamie Hubley, but also the regressive antics of BC politician Marc Dalton, who promoted an anti-gay church in the province's legislature on October 18. Even the very day on which the commemorative plaque in honour of the UTHA was unveiled was not free of LGBT-related controversy, as U of T President David Naylor related the news of Shorter University in Georgia threatening to fire employees who refuse to declare that they are not gay.
“Often universities are the first refuge where young people can embrace and express their sexual identities,” said Naylor. “[Universities are] privileged places in that regard, but far from perfect. Outside of these walls, it is still not a sanctuary for many people who have sexual identities in the minority in our society. This is a fantastic commemoration and the impressive turnout certainly speaks to its own success, but it's also a sign of the work still to be done.”
Naylor's sentiment was echoed by every speaker who took to the podium to offer their own words on what the Provincial Plaque celebrates and symbolizes. “This is the first LGBT related Provincial Plaque in Ontario, and it acknowledges that sexual minorities are an important part of this province's history,” concluded Rayside. “What I hope it doesn't do is suggest that these struggles are purely historical.”
Perhaps Lisa Kadey, one of the many students of Sexual Diversity Studies in attendance, said it best: "Marking these moments in queer history is simultaneously a celebration of how far we've come, and a reminder of how much is left to do."