Among the stacks, shelves, and folders in The ArQuives basement at 34 Isabella sits an interesting collection of periodicals from the yesteryear of Canada’s prairies. One of these from Saskatchewan, Perceptions, is Canada’s longest running LGBT printed media – yes, even longer than Xtra and The Body Politic. This little publication started out of Saskatoon by Gens Hellquist, in 1983, Perceptions quickly became one of the most reliable Gay news sources for rural and urban Gays alike, from coast to coast. It featured LGBT news from all three prairie provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta), as well as news from Toronto and other geographies of the time. Perceptions was for many people the only access to other LGBT-identified news and bodies, and many relied on the newsletter to stay informed about important LGBT issues and politics, as well as local events.
Here are summaries of the first 4 issues of Perceptions, which can be found, along with the rest of the collection, at the Canadian Lesbian + Gay Archives in Toronto.
Issue No. 1: March-April 1983
The first issue was only 12 pages including the front and back cover. On the front, a line drawing of a building in the prairies, over text that says INSIDE: Confessions of a Gayline Volunteer, G.L.U.S. – A Voice in the Wilderness and Sask’s Newest Couple – “Gaze” and “Gay Times” Join Hands.
Page two contains a friendly greeting to all who read Perceptions:
“If we are to be successful we need the support of the community… We welcome all interested people to come and join with us to work on our newsletter…The quality will only be as good as the people we have involved working on it… All that is needed is a concern about having a good newsletter in our community.”
Perceptions was, from the beginning, a space of community outreach and cohesion for Queers across Canada. Given the social context of the time, Perceptions was an important source of information about the fast-breaking terror that was the AIDS virus. Pages 3 and 5 of Issue No. 1 warns:
“…the Canadian Red Cross has advised promiscuous male homosexuals, drug abusers, and Haitians not to give blood for fear of spreading acquired immune deficiency [sic] or AIDS. …Both the Canadian and American Red Cross have now come out advising promiscuous gay men as well as other ‘at risk groups’ not to give blood until the causes are known. Now all that is needed is to discover what is promiscuous!”
The first issue also contains a submission by a volunteer from a Saskatoon gay hotline, GAYLINE, which provided prairie queers with access to safe, nonjudgmental conversation and resources about Saskatoon’s gay community. In the back of the little zine is a community page, an event calendar, and community classifieds.
Issue No. 2: May-June 1983
Issue no. 2 is a little meatier this time, with 15 pages. The cover has proclaims not what is inside like the last issue; instead, a sketch of an elephant bursting out of a gilded frame above the text: Break The Frame! The May-/June 1983 newsletter informs Saskatoon queers of the newest collection of over 100 LGBT prints in the Saskatoon Public Library, as well as its subscription to Toronto’s queer news source The Body Politic. Page 4 told the personal story of a gay man who regretfully used alcohol abuse to cope with his queerness; Page 5 had single-frame comics and poetry; Page 6, a full page update about the AIDS crisis including the then (and ever growing) death count, symptoms, and cautions and assurances to those at higher risk. A large events calendar spans pages 7 through 10, mostly filled with “Softball League Kelsey #1” at 7PM every Tuesday, Coming Out group meetings every other Wednesday, the other Wednesdays reserved for open Perceptions meetings. Page 11 contains an article called “Coming Out To Mom” and invite to the aforementioned Kelsey softball games (no gender preferred). Skim through the classifieds to Page 14 to find “Finding Lesbian Herstory” boldly printed, venting and advertising about a show looking to reclaim lesbian identity and history. The issue ends with a community page with more local events and resources.
Issue No. 3: July-Aug 1983
As the months passed, the issues got bigger. The July-Aug 1983 issue comes to an even 20 pages of material. On the cover, a handprint, near the text: “What’s Legal; Beebo Brinker at U of S, Gov’t Rejects Leader Role in Issue of Gay Rights; and On Being Butch”. Page 2’s editorial is a personal story from Gens Hellquist, about his own wonderings of being the only gay man in Saskatoon. He muses of how Saskatoon was in great need of a cohesive, strong gay community like those in Toronto or Vancouver. Gens heartfelt commitment to molding such a community is followed by a submission by “Angry but Tender” called FAG BASHING… IN SASKATOON (I’m sure you can guess what it’s about). Pages 6 and 7 flaunts an article called Abnormal – And Irresistible: The University Library – an untapped cache of lesbian trash??”; the following page contains About LAW – going over what were the current legalities of gayness in Canada. Page 9 informs of a targeted anti-gay arson at a club called Numbers. After another large event calendar, page 12 has an AIDS update about media surges, hospital and research funding, and affect toll. Following these are articles about the Tories striking down equal rights protection to homosexuals, the dramatic reaction to the problem of children at Lesbian dances, classifieds, and, finally, more calls for Perceptions volunteers, and community information.
Issue No. 4: Sept-Oct 1983
The final selected issue depicts a loose pen sketch of a person and their lover embracing in the grass. The Sept-Oct 1983 issue contained letters to and from the Editor, more comics, and yet another very important update on the AIDS crisis. At this point, panic has begun to set into the gay community as more and more find themselves affected. This article offers some information about better health, and takes a swipe at the infamous Anita Bryant and her “crusade”. Page 10 is an article about bodybuilding, why it’s good for the body and mind, and some tips for practice, followed by an article about being a gay female bodybuilder. I found that this issue of Perceptions is a little bolder, and a little broader in terms of content. It started as a small publication with a couple articles and resources and already, after less than a year of publications over 4 issues, Perceptions has come far out of its shell and expanded into various and diverse gay-related submissions.
Perceptions is not just a small-press gay zine from the 80s. Perceptions is an archive of a seldom-recognized pocket of Canadian LGBT culture that, without the publication, might not have ever started, let alone expand the way it did. It is a record of queer life in the prairie, a reflection of social anxieties of the time, and a publication of community thought and opinion, giving readers the chance to give and take, and providing the community with a much needed resource to connect with each other. The last issue was published in 2013, when Gens passed away.
Perceptions is the longest-running LGBT publication in Canada. To read these issues, the rest of the collection, or to see what else The ArQuives has in the stacks, contact The ArQuives at email@example.com.
Author: Laura Arner, The ArQuives Volunteer