Gay and Lesbian Rights

GAY AND LESBIAN RIGHTS in BC have been secured gradually and amid heated controversy, despite the fact that homosexual men and women have a continuous—if often hidden—presence in BC history. Canada's first homophile group, the Association for Social Knowledge (ASK), was formed in the Kitsilano neighbourhood of Vancouver in 1964, followed by The Gay Alliance Towards Equality (GATE) in 1971 and the Society for Education, Action, Research and Counselling on Homosexuality (SEARCH) in 1973. GATE was responsible for one of the first gay rights cases ever considered by the Supreme Court of Canada when it took the VANCOUVER SUN to court over its refusal to publish an ad for its newspaper, Gay Tide. In 1973 GATE organized BC's first annual Gay Pride Week, which later expanded into a major cultural festival that hosts the largest annual parade in Vancouver. Pride Days later came to be celebrated in KELOWNA, NANAIMO, PRINCE GEORGE, VERNON, NELSON, VICTORIA and the OKANAGAN VALLEY.

In 1979 Svend ROBINSON of Burnaby became Canada's first openly gay Member of Parliament and throughout the 1980s dozens of gay organizations sprung up in response to the special interests of their members. In 1980 the Vancouver Gay and Lesbian Community Centre (VGLCC) was founded to provide meeting space, legal and medical information and other services. In 1984 the Vancouver Lesbian Centre became the first of its kind in Canada, presaging other centres in the Lower Mainland, the Interior and the Island. Sports leagues formed for gay athletes, leading to Vancouver's selection in 1990 Vancouver to host the third International Gay Games. In the arts high-profile activists like journalist STAN PERSKY and novelists JANE RULE and ANNE CAMERON contributed to a new sense of cohesion, maturity and visibility for the gay community.

In 1981 AIDS began to make inroads in BC's gay community and AIDS Vancouver (AV) was incorporated to provide public information, offer support services and advocate to governments. AV was the first of its kind in Canada, and a template for AIDS services across the continent. Its pioneering efforts were acknowledged when Vancouver was chosen as the host of the 1996 International Conference on AIDS.

The 1990s saw increasing acceptance of homosexuality by mainstream BC society with the establishment of gay churches and gay businesses. In the 1990s there was also a steady increase in legal protections for gays and lesbians in BC. In 1992 the BC HUMAN RIGHTS Act was amended to include homosexuals as a group explicitly protected against discrimination. In 1996 the federal government passed legislation to make it illegal to discriminate against Canadians on the basis of sexual orientation. After several court decisions, the right of same-sex couples to marry was enshrined in law in 2003.