Today is Feb, 5th and on this day 34 years ago Toronto police organized “Operation Soap” raiding four gay bathhouses in the city and arresting over 300 innocent men. It was perhaps one of our lowest points as a city and should serve to remind all of us how easily our rights can be taken away. Human rights are, unfortunately, easily ignored when those given power are ignorant.
Peter Bochove was co owner of the Richmond Street Health Emporium at the time of the raid in 1981 and said the police came in with crow bars and sledge hammers “ they were offered the keys to the lockers and the rooms, but they held up a crowbar and said — we brought our own. We ended up in the shower room and we were all told to strip” One of the cops who was looking at the pipes going into the shower room said, “gee, it’s too bad we can’t hook this up to gas.” http://www.yorku.ca/jspot/5/stand_together/3/
The campaign was an initiative by the metropolitan police to push gay bars and bathhouses out of business – but also to silence those who advocated for gay rights.
Instead of driving the LGBT community underground it worked as a catalyst, uniting the gay community and building support through mass demonstrations, rallies and marches. It was the beginning of six years of steady harassment by the police of gay press and gay men across the country; but also the beginning of the gay rights movement in Canada. Instead of hiding, gay men took to the streets, marching with their supporters, pushing the boundary and speaking out. It was the end of the silence.
Today is a day to remember, and a day to celebrate all those who stood up for gay rights and refused to stay silent.