There’s no need to explain to Canadians how important Heritage Moments are to the national psyche.
The one minute videos, which have been made since the 90s by Historica Canada, teach us our nation's history and have burned Canadian incidents that easily could have been lost to time into our minds—who can ever forget ”I smell burned toast!” And while it’s an admittedly extremely watered down and whitewashed history told through bad actors and cheesy filmmaking it’s history nonetheless. And now, for the first time, there is a video devoted to queer history.
Historica Canada President and CEO Anthony Wilson-Smith told VICE that the people behind the iconic TV spots "recognized it was time for a Minute focusing on the LGBTQ2 community."
"Jim Egan’s story spans half a century,"Wilson-Smith told VICE. "It allowed us show the fight for equal rights at different points in history, including a time perhaps unknown to many Canadians, when homosexual acts were illegal. In our view, the story of Jim and his fight has ongoing relevance and social impact. "
The newest minute, which you can watch above, focuses on Jim Egan—one of Canada’s gay rights pioneers. In 1949 Egan began anonymously writing letters to newspapers and in 1952 published a story called “I Am A Homosexual” in the Toronto Star regarding discrimination against LGBTQ people—a point of view rarely heard of at that time.
“Someone had to respond to the tabloids, so I wrote letters challenging every misconception of homosexuality,” the man playing Jim Egan says in the video.
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Egan, and his longtime partner Jack Nesbit, are forever connected with the battle for LGBTQ rights in Canada as the result of a famous court battle. In the late 80s, after the couple had retired and started collecting their pension, Nesbit and Egan applied for spousal benefits. They were denied but kept fighting, all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1995 the Supreme Court argued on the case and ruled against the couple. Now, while that may be seen as a loss, the Supreme Court also ruled to make discrimination against a person's sexual orientation prohibited in the charter.
In the video’s final seconds Canadian LGBTQ icon k.d. lang calls the case a “landmark victory.”
Dr. Kris Wells, the director of Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, praised the short video and hopes it will work to make the subject less taboo.
“Queer history is seldom made public and rarely, if ever, talked about in schools,” Wells told VICE. “Hopefully, this groundbreaking historical minute will help break this long held silence and educate our society about the many queer heroes who risked their very lives to bring equality to our nation.
“May we never forget their names and sacrifices. May we never be silent again.”
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