WHAT CAME BEFORE
According to many, the most adventurous of those loft parties were presented by filmmaker and artist Nicolas Jenkins, aka Sterile Cowboys & Co. Born in Peru and raised largely in Canada, Jenkins had studied at the Ontario College of Art before leaving Toronto for New York. There, he worked at influential nightclub Area as a busboy then projectionist, and fell in love with the underground house music heard at clubs like Paradise Garage.
SEX GARAGE: THE PARTY & PROTESTS
Photojournalist and writer Linda Dawn Hammond witnessed both the party and police actions with camera in hand. Hammond had moved from B.C. to Montreal in 1982 and became an active participant in its arts and punk communities. Drawn to a "Montreal milieu that was inclusive in terms of gender, sexual orientation, race and language," she would come to take photos at a number of Jenkins' events, and was at Sex Garage to document people voguing there. Her photos would capture much more than intended."I first heard of the police presence [at Sex Garage] when someone told me that they'd been inside and commanded the organizers to close it down," she details. "Lights were still dim and the music pounding, so many of us thought it was just a rumour. Then we heard that police were outside the front door, and witnesses from another loft space in the building reported seeing police attack a man from the party, Bruce Buck, who had tried to return to retrieve his coat. The police had taken him out of sight between the building and parked cars, and badly beat him."Hammond recorded what came next at length, both in words and photos. Police "regrouped in battalion formation" as they blocked partygoers attempting to exit. Some cops advanced on the crowd with batons in hand, yelling homophobic insults. The crowd stood firm, volleying back political chants. Some cops removed their badges, and beat party participants. Hammond kept shooting, her camera's flash identifying her location. Despite being knocked to the ground by police, she managed to get her camera and rolls of film to a friend who biked away. These photos later served as evidence of both police brutality and a community that no longer accepted this as a given.
Police "regrouped in battalion formation" as they blocked partygoers attempting to exit. Some cops advanced on the crowd with batons in hand, yelling homophobic insults. The crowd stood firm, volleying back political chants. Some cops removed their badges, and beat party participants.
WE'RE HERE, WE'RE QUEER, GET USED TO IT
THE SOCIAL & SONIC REVERBERATION
SEX GARAGE: THE STAGE
LESSONS IN ACTION
Puelo Deir agrees. "Sex Garage did more for Quebec LGBTQ human rights than any other event before it," he emphasizes. "It engaged an entire generation of people to be out and, more importantly, to be politically motivated and change culture and change society. I tell kids and people who say 'Oh we don't need Pride anymore' that we have an example right now of why Pride is more important than ever. You have a situation in the United States where they want to destroy all of the gains that we've achieved and, as we're seeing, it can be easily done."When asked to comment on the relationship between Montreal's police force and the queer community today, Deir immediately responds, "Non-existent. We have the queer kids that are anti-cop, and I totally get it. We had the student protests of 'Maple Spring'  and again more recently , where the relationship with the cops showed how not much had changed at all. The cops have never, to my knowledge, participated in the parade with Divers/Cité or the current incarnation of Pride in Montreal. I think there's still a lot of work to do."Deir, who is currently at work on a documentary/theatre piece about male sex work and Canadian prostitution laws, has pointed to what is perhaps the most divisive issue in Canadian queer politics today: how, if at all, police should participate in Pride parades outside of paid on-duty shifts.
Sex Garage did more for Quebec LGBTQ human rights than any other event before it. It engaged an entire generation of people to be out and, more importantly, to be politically motivated and change culture and change society.—Puelo Deir
This issue came to the forefront when Black Lives Matter Toronto halted last year's Pride parade to present a list of demands to Pride Toronto. The item on that important list that has received the most media attention—and sparked countless heated debates—is the demand to remove police floats from the parade. Earlier this year, members attending Pride Toronto's Annual General Meeting voted to accept and implement BLM's demands. Off-duty police remain welcome to participate in the parade on foot, but not in uniform."I think that everything happening in Toronto right now, about Pride and police, is bringing this issue into discussion, where it should be," affirms Trepanier, who now works as a sound recordist and continues to DJ. "How on earth can people forget so quickly that the police hated us? They may be better at PR, but the police still actually hate on QPOC communities and people live in fear of the police. The cops are not a benign force —they enact racist and homophobic policies all the time. Pride was about fighting back against that."This conversation is a crucial one. All people whose lives fall under the LGBTQ2+ spectrum do not benefit equally from the same rights and privileges. Until we do, there is reason to keep marching and protesting."It seems to me that what Black Lives Matter did was remind people that Gay Pride is about more than sponsors and dancing and a parade," observes Patrik. "One thing I definitely learned from Sex Garage is that when you want to bring on radical change, it's always messy. Change as fundamental as the way that people look at gays or queers, and how the police respect or lack respect, is never done in a polite manner because it's sort of a punch back."I think that's what Sex Garage was. It was 'Enough is enough,'" he says. "What came after was a feeling that you could go out and be gay in the world, and the world was ready for it."Denise Benson is on Twitter.