HOUSTON VOICE • JANUARY 28, 2000
-Selling your life insurance'
by DAVID BIANCO
Brutal lesson in bathhouse etiquette
What were the Toronto bathhouse raids
It wasn't the first anti-gay police action in
Canada's history, but it was the biggest and
most brutal. On Feb. 5,1981,150 plainclothes
and uniformed police officers staged violent
raids on four gay bathhouses in Toronto and
arrested almost 300 men.
City politics played a major role in the
raids. In the elections of November 1980,
right-wing municipal candidates for the
first time played the "gay card," raising the
threat of gay power to win votes. Toronto's
gay-friendly mayor lost his bid for reelection to an arch conservative. The City
Council, too, shifted to the right.
The Body Politic, the city's gay newspaper,
anticipated in December 1980 that "the
police [will] feel more comfortable" with
the new mayor and that would lead to
increased harassment of gays and other
minorities. On Feb. 5 of the following year,
the prediction came true.
At 11 p.m., police simultaneously raided
four of Toronto's five gay bathhouses—
Barracks, Club Baths, Richmond Street
Health Emporium and Roman Sauna
Baths. At Richmond Street, undercover officers arrived first and asked for a room and
a locker. After they paid, they arrested the
cashier and the manager.
At Barracks, "a guy in plain clothes ...
shoved me up against the wall," one bathhouse patron reported. Besides bloodying the
man's nose, the undercover cop repeatedly
punched him in the lower back while taunting him verbally, "You're disgusting, faggot."
Physical and verbal abuse of patrons was
reported at all four bathhouses.
Police also used crowbars and hammers to
smash through doors and walls, causing significant damage to the premises. Many of the
plainclothes policemen never bothered to
show their badges. Police at the Richmond
Street baths allegedly answered the phone
during the raid with quips to callers such as,
"Michael's tied up right now."
The raids lasted three hours and caused
$35,000 in damage. Canadian "bawdy house"
laws permitted the arrest of bathhouse
patrons on charges of prostitution or indecency, and a total of 266 men were taken were
charged. Twenty employees were also arrested, as well as a medic from a clinic that gave
free VD checks to bathhouse patrons
Community response was fast and furious.
By noon on Feb. 6, concerned and angry representatives from Toronto's leading gay
organizations began to stratc-gize. In just four
hours, a coalition of activists had rounded up
a sound truck and marshals and had produced 4,000 flyers calling for a demonstration
that night against the police raids.
At midnight, at a busy intersection in the
heart of Toronto's gay neighborhood, protesters began gathering. A few hundred led the
The steamy confines of four Toronto bathhouses
were disrupted in 1981 when police raids resulted
in 266 arrests, igniting a wave of gay protests.
way, blowing whistles and chanting "Stop the
cops!" Others soon arrived, and patrons of
gay bars joined the angry crowd. Within half
an hour, a crowd of about 1,500 surged
toward the police station where the men
arrested the night before had been held.
As the crowd neared, protesters met with
resistance from the police, who once again
resorted to brutality. Several people were
injured and 11 demonstrators were arrested.
"It was our Stonewall," one participant later
declared. But, in fact, Canadian gays had been
forging a liberation movement for 10 years.
Two weeks after the raids, community
anger had not" died down. On Feb. 20, the
largest gay demonstration in Canadian history up to that point took place in Toronto's
Queen's Park, with at least 2,000 people.
The events of February 1981 mobilized gay
Torontonians to renewed and radical political
action. "I finally got angry," wrote Ken Popert,
editor of The Body Politic. "As long as society
continues to demand us as its victims and its
human sacrifices, that anger is going to be
there, waiting to get into us, again and again."
The City Council later voted for an independent inquiry into the raids.
In the months that followed, Toronto's gay
organizations grew in size and strength. New
ones formed to keep applying pressure to
local government. Anti-violence street patrols
were initiated. A print ad was created for U.S.
newspapers and travel agents, discouraging
vacationers. By the summer, the city had
funded a report on how to improve relations
between gays and police.
"We finally may be getting something
we've been saying we've had for the last 10
years," one activist noted: "a gay community"
David Bianco is the author of "Gay
Essentials," a collection of his history columns.
He can be reached at DaveBianco@aol.com.
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Community Enhancement Meetings
Each year, the City updates its
long-range plans for installing
new sewer lines, streets, police
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other projects in the community.
Please help identiTy projects
and city service needs in your
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Council members are holding a
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Come learn about City programs
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I District A Bruce Tatro
February 3, 7-9 p.m.
Scarborough High School
4141 Costa Rica
I District B Carol Mims Galloway
February 8, 7-9 p.m.
Francis Scott Key Middle School
■ District C MarkCoWberg
February 10, 7-9 p.m.
The Rice School - Auditorium
February 29, 7-9 p.m.
Braeswood Assembly of God
I District D Jew Don Bonev. Jr.
February 1, 7 - 9:30 p.m.
Museum of Fine Arts - Auditorium
I District E Rob Todd
February 15, 7-9 p.m
Dobie High School - Cafeteria
11111 Beamer Rd.
February 21, 7-9 p.m.
Creekwood Middle School-
I 3603 W Lake Houston Pkwy.
| District F Mark Ellis
February 28, 7- 9 p.m.
Sharpstown Recreation Center
6600 Harbor Town
I District G Bert Keller
| February 24, 6:30- 8:30 p.m.
Frostwood Elementary School
12214 Memorial Drive
■ District H Gabriel Vasquez
February 22, 7- 9 p.m.
Jeff Davis High School - Auditorium
| 1101 Quitman
I District I John Castillo
February 17, 6:30 -8:30 p.m.