Pussy Palace Oral History Project
In the early-morning hours of September 15, 2000, Toronto police raided Club Toronto — a gay men’s bathhouse — during the fourth installment of the Pussy Palace, an exclusive bathhouse event for queer women, trans, and gender-expansive people.* Following reports from two undercover female police officers who were sent in to investigate the space, five male plainclothes police officers entered the Palace and spent 90 minutes interrogating and surveilling upwards of 350 patrons who were in various states of undress. Weeks later, two volunteer organizers were charged with allegedly contravening the Liquor License Act. The community responded with public protests and fundraising initiatives in support of those facing charges. In 2002, Justice Peter Hryn dismissed all charges, agreeing that the raid had violated the patrons’ constitutional rights. Subsequently, a human rights complaint and class-action lawsuit against the police was settled for $350,000. Funds were allocated to legal fees and select charitable initiatives.
In collaboration with The ArQuives: Canada’s LGBTQ2+ Archives, we are collecting oral history interviews with patrons, event organizers, and those involved in the police action, the subsequent legal case, and related community activism. Although this project aims to preserve the history of Canada’s last major bathhouse police raid, our focus is on community knowledge-building and knowledge exchange. Our hope is to document a collection of stories that will testify not only to the events of the raid but also to the nuances of an historic moment of radical sexual culture in Toronto’s LGBTQ2+ community.
This work builds upon a panel discussion with event organizers and patrons, hosted by The ArQuives in September 2020 to honour the raid’s 20th anniversary.
Project Team: Elspeth Brown (PI), Raegan Swanson (Co-Supervisor), Alisha Stranges (Project Manager and Interviewer), Elio Colavito (Project Collaborator and Interviewer), Jordan Saroya (Administrative Assistant).
*The Pussy Palace was later renamed the Pleasure Palace to acknowledge the diversity of bodies and gender identities that made use of this space.
In a joint partnership with the University of Victoria’s Transgender Archives, we are collecting oral history interviews with trans elders about their history of activism on behalf of trans people and communities in order to establish trans-specific and trans-positive primary source historical narratives that can be preserved for future generations. Project Team: Elspeth Brown (PI), Aaron Devor (Collaborator), Evan Taylor (Interviewer), Chase Joynt (Co-Applicant and filmmaker), Elizabeth Holliday (Project Assistant and Editor).
This project, commencing in 2020, is a community-based oral history project led by long-time activist Ed Jackson. Ed is focusing on collecting oral histories from Toronto gay activists involved in 1970s and 1980s activism. The Collaboratory’s role is to provide help and some student support, as needed. Currently, undergrad Tomasz Glod is the project RA.
Prepared by the LGBTQ Oral History Digital Collaboratory with The ArQuives (for the Collaboratory: Nick Matte, Elspeth Brown, Haley O’Shaughnessy, Al Stanton-Hagan, K.J. Rawson, and Eli Holliday; for The ArQuives, Raegan Swanson, Rebecka Sheffield, Alan Miller, Harold Averill, and Lucie Handley-Girard). The 70-page Trans Collections Guide is designed to assist researchers and community members interested in exploring trans histories at The ArQuives: Canada’s LGBTQ2+ Archives. It provides a general overview of relevant materials in The ArQuives’ holdings, including the collections of Canadian artists, activists, and intellectuals like Mirha-Soleil Ross, Rupert Raj, and Anton Wagner. It also includes detailed information about how to request and access these materials. This guide also identifies common challenges that researchers face when exploring trans histories both at The ArQuives and more generally in collections predominately focused on gay and lesbian histories.
The Queer Peel Oral History Project was a student-driven initiative that emerged from a 3rd year history course at the University of Toronto, Mississauga, in early 2020. Seeking to create primary sources about queer and trans life in the suburbs, the Queer Peel Oral History Project features 25 oral history interviews with LGBTQ2+ activists, students, alums, and residents of the Peel region with relevant news articles and other contextualizing visuals. The Omeka exhibition is now live, and it is available here: https://omeka.utm.utoronto.ca/s/queerpeel/page/intro. The interviews themselves can be located at the University of Toronto, Mississauga Archives and Special Collections.
Between 2016 and 2019, the Collaboratory collected and digitized 176 audio cassettes and over 30 transcripts featuring over 125 oral history interviews of gay men in Toronto discussing their experiences of pre– and post-Stonewall community life (specifically, the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s). These interviews comprised the Foolscap Gay Oral History Project, which the late John Grube started in 1980. Grube and Lionel Collier, an undergraduate student at the time, both collected a great number of interviews with local gay men in Toronto. These interviews were intended to document the formation of gay social spaces in the city, in addition to the personal histories of the gay men interviewed. Most of these interviews were conducted within the 1980s, although an interview with Lionel Collier conducted in 1997 is included in the fonds. We are currently working on a Finding Aid for the collection; interested researchers are welcome to contact Elspeth Brown. For a sense of the materials, consult a digital exhibition on Foolscap that Prof. Brown’s students completed in 2017. A special note of thanks to former undergrad Zohar Freeman, who was the project lead for many years. Learn More.
Project Lead: Dr. Cait McKinney
The Lesbians Making History (LMH) collective came together in the mid-1980s and was inspired by oral history projects of gay lives coming out of Buffalo, Boston and San Francisco. The collective interviewed 9 women about their experiences as ‘out’ lesbians in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. In 2014 the original audio tapes were given to the The ArQuives via the LGBTQ Digital Oral History Collaboratory. Embedded at The ArQuives, Collaboratory members digitized LMH materials and created new verbatim transcriptions. Original LHM collective members assisted with editing transcripts, identifying key words and writing abstracts for each oral history interview. We created a digital exhibition featuring the interviews, which you can find here.
Project Lead: Elspeth Brown
The Family Camera Network was a collaborative, community-based project at the intersection of photography and oral history, wherein our network of cultural institutions, researchers, digital librarians and archivists developed the first multi-partner scholarly study of family photography as a critical building block for understanding self, family, community, and nation in Canada. Collecting 42 oral histories, 60 albums, 37 home videos, and over 17,000 accompanying family photographs, The Family Camera Network established a public archive of family photographs and their stories, focused on migration in the near or distant past, and to and within Canada. Housed at the Royal Ontario Museum and The ArQuives: Canada’s LGBTQ2+ Archives, the Family Camera Network also spurred the Queering Family Photography exhibition, described on Prof. Brown’s homepage as well as available as a digital exhibition on The ArQuives’ website. You can find out more about Queering Family Photography at www.elspethbrown.org.
Scholars in Residence Digital Collections Lab
Project Leads: Elspeth Brown, Cait McKinney, Juan Carlos Mezo Gonzalez, Sajdeep Soomal, Sid Cunningham
Students: Alisha Krishna, Amal Khurram, Caleigh Inman, Mac Stewart, Zohar Freeman
This project was a partnership with the Jackman Humanities Institute’s Scholars in Residence program. For May 2016, we ran an intensive digital collections lab with five undergraduate students, out of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, to create three digital collections: 1) “Not a Place on a Map,” Desh Pardesh Festival oral history project (partnership with South Asian Visual Arts Centre); 2) The Mirha-Soleil Ross Archives; 3) Foolscap Gay Oral History Project. Each project is outlined in detail below.
Project Lead: Saj Soomal, SAVAC
Toronto’s Desh Pardesh festival (1988–2001) was a multidisciplinary arts festival that showcased underrepresented and marginalized voices within the South Asian diaspora. In collaboration with SAVAC, we will produce a digital collection that streams these already complete born-digital interviews with artists and activist of colour, and brings additional context to the interviews through digitized visual materials that document the festival. Learn More.
Project Lead: Elspeth Brown
This project explores the experience of partners of trans* men, focusing on partners who were with their partner before and during at least six months of the transition, however defined (the couple does not have to be together now). 50 interviews have been completed in Canada and the U.S. so far. Learn More.
Project Leads: Cait McKinney and Sid Cunningham
Collaborators: Nora Butler Burke, Aaron Cain, Trish Salah
Mirha-Soleil Ross (b. 1969, Montréal) is a transsexual media artist, activist, and sex-worker, who lived in Toronto from the early 1990s until 2008, the period covered by her fonds at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives. The Collaboratory has partnered with the CLGA and Ms. Ross to processes these unparalleled records of trans art and activist histories in the city. The first batch of processing was completed in April 2016 and the collection is now open to researchers. We are building digital collections based on these materials as part of our Scholars in Residence Digital Collections Lab (May 2017), and will be completing oral history interviews with Ms. Ross later in 2017.Sid Cunningham, Caleigh Inman, and MacKenzie Stewart, students from the 2017 Scholars in Residence Program, created the gendertrash zine digital exhibition for The ArQuives, which you can find at digitalexhibitions.arquives.ca.
Project Lead: Nick Matte
This oral history project focuses on the 1998 delisting and 2008 re-listing of sex reassignment surgeries in Ontario (as medical procedures funded by the province). This project brought together the voices, memories and experiences of people who were either effected by the policy changes, or who worked to fight for access to quality health care and equality for trans people in Ontario and beyond. For the interviews, see this link: Learn More.