Pussy Palace Oral History Project

Pussy Palace Logo, designed by Claudia Dávila.

Spring-Summer 2021

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.

If you are interested in being interviewed, please contact us at oralhistories@arquives.ca or elspeth.brown@utoronto.ca.

Planning for this oral history project generated 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, University of Toronto), Raegan Swanson (Co-Supervisor, The ArQuives), 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.