Collective & Contributing Women
Over the lifetime of the collective, and since the periodical’s last publication date, The Body Politic has been often criticized for being an enclave of gay-cis-white-men. While the collective members were predominantly gay-cis-white-men, many women would join the collective and contribute as writers, photographers, editors, and organizers; women like writer and editor Gillian Rodgerson, who moved from Toronto to London, England in 1987, worked at Gay Times, edited Capital Gay and in 1997 became the editor of lesbian periodical Diva; writer and labour activist Gay Bell (whose archive is now part of The ArQuives collection); Sue (Johnny) Golding, who was a regular contributor, as well as being involved with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre; and writer and playwright Sunny (Sonja) Mills, who eventually became paid staff at TBP. And who can forget Jane Rule, American-born Canadian novelist, essayist, and short-story writer known for her exploration of lesbian themes who became a notable contributor to the periodical and spent two decades corresponding with Rick Bébout, TBP writer and editor. One woman who stands out because of her towering impact on the gay liberation movement as activist, and a member of The Body Politic is Chris Bearchell – the real life person who, in large part, informs Nick Green’s character Deb.In 1975, Chris was the first woman writer to join The Body Politic, then in 1978 she joined the TBP’s governing collective, and Chris was a stalwart, staying with the paper until its demise. She was also in the forefront of founding some of the first lesbian and gay organizations in Canada. She was a co-founder of the Lesbian Organization of Toronto (LOOT), and fought for the inclusion of non-discrimination against lesbians and gays in the Ontario Human Rights code. In 1978 Chris became involved with the Coalition to Stop Anita Bryant and in Lesbians Against the Right (LAR). In 1980, as the representative of the Canadian Association of Gays and Lesbians, Bearchell testified before the Special Joint Commission on the Constitution. In her opening remarks to the commission we witness her powerful argument that if Canada is to live up to its claims of pluralism and inclusion, gay and lesbian teachers should be allowed to be openly gay without fear of incrimination – “The making of the Charter: The Voice of the People.” Bearchell’s leadership role following Toronto Police Force’s Operation Soap – 1981 Bathhouse Raids – is legendary. The night after the cops’ coordinated raids of bathhouses across the city a crowd assembled at Yonge and Wellesley. Chris, on the speaker’s platform, inspired the crowd to channel their collective anger to demand change. The demonstration moved to 52 Division on Dundas Street, where Bearchell stood on a riser and famously rallied the crowd to a rendition of the chant “No more Shit!.” The crowd eventually landed at Queen’s Park where a phalanx of officers assaulted the demonstrators. The next day, The Sun’s cover story headline was “Gay Rage” over a picture of the officers who had removed their identifying badges – unwittingly providing evidence of their intentions. Proud Lives: Chris Bearchell a Tribute, the documentary by award-winning filmmaker Nancy Nicol, which is included in The ArQuives’s digital collection, comprehensively outlines Chris Bearchell’s life history, capturing her essence, and her capacity as a pioneer and anti-discrimination activist. Chris Bearchell consistently fought for our rights. Unrelentingly loud and infinitely proud, Chris’ influence continues to be felt in Canada’s queer community beyond her untimely death in 2007. And the Archives is proud to have inducted her into The ArQuives’s National Portrait Collection in 2003.