Tag Archives: queer

The Secret History of Pride

Pride Month

To celebrate Pride Month, we have developed a blog series with weekly posts, designed to allow UTP authors the opportunity to share with us what Pride means to them, and to discuss a whole manner of Pride-related topics.

Our final contribution to our Pride Month series comes from Sex and the Weimar Republic author Laurie Marhoefer. Marhoefer shares what Pride means to her, explores the history of gay rights activism, and notes how Pride has changed over the past century.


Pride, which in my neighborhood in Seattle rivals Christmas for importance (we already have our flags and signs out and the marches are two weeks away), came out of a historical event, the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969. Stonewall wasn’t the beginning of gay rights, however. Gay rights has a much longer history. A lot of it isn’t nearly as sexy as Pride (at its best) can be.

The fight for legal equality for “homosexuals,” as they came to be called towards the end of the nineteenth century, seems to have begun in a Swiss alpine village in the 1830s, if it did not begin with the French Revolution.

Well before the Second World War, many people around the world (and a majority of Germans, I’ll bet) knew that there were same-sex loving individuals who claimed to be members of a “sexual minority” (rather than debauched sinners, as the Christian worldview had it) and argued for the repeal of laws against same-sex sex. Very few people agreed with the homosexual emancipationist view of things. But some did, particularly the homosexuals themselves.

The thing was, this movement for gay rights may not have made you want to wave the rainbow flag around. It was kind of conservative. My UTP book, Sex and the Weimar Republic: German Homosexual Emancipation and the Rise of the Nazis, explores that movement, led by Magnus Hirschfeld and others. Those activists fought Germany’s law against sodomy. But they did so by vilifying sex workers, creating an implicitly white gay subject, and buying into eugenics. By the 1920s there was a robust independent trans rights movement, too, and it was also invested in making trans people “respectable.”

Before the late 1960s, for most gay activists the goal wasn’t to be out and proud. It was to get the police to stop arresting people for having consensual sex in private. People wanted to quietly live out their otherwise conventional lives. A giant parade of homosexuals and gender-benders would have horrified them.

Pride is different. It is from the 1970s, not the 1830s or the 1920s. Some of Pride’s roots are in radical, antiracist, anti-imperialist left-of-center gay and trans activism. Though it hasn’t always lived up to those beginnings – for more on that, see what I wrote here – it sometimes does. The pro-sex fabulousness of Pride, and the in-your-face claim on public space that Pride makes, that’s from the 1970s, baby.

That’s what Pride means to me. Gay rights isn’t always left-of-center. It never exists outside of another, broader political vision, and those visions can be pretty darn right-of-center. But Pride can be a better moment in queer and trans politics, a leftist, antiracist moment, one that echos a time when queer and trans people set out to transform the world into a more just one, not just to quietly fit in to an unjust world.


Laurie Marhoefer is an associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Washington.

At the Avant-Garde: Queer Cities, Cinemas, and Festivals on the Prairies

Written by guest blogger, Jonathan Petrychyn.

If asked to guess where Canada’s oldest and longest-running queer film festival is located, most people wouldn’t think to start guessing cities on the Canadian Prairies. Most would guess Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver. But in fact, it all started in Winnipeg in 1985 – a full two years before Montreal, three before Vancouver, six before Toronto.

This fact comes as a surprise to many. The prairies are typically conceived as a very conservative region of the country, deeply hostile to queer people. But, as my own research and the research of other scholars has shown, there have been queer people on the prairies – and these queers have been screening, making, and distributing film for as long as their peers in bigger cities.

In my article for the Canadian Journal of Film Studies, I tell the history of expanded cinema and performance art at Queer City Cinema, Canada’s longest-running (and, until the Toronto Queer Film Festival emerged in 2016, its only) experimental queer film festival. Located in Regina, Saskatchewan, the festival has been organized and curated by performance artist Gary Varro since 1996. Like many other queer film festivals that emerged in the 1990s, the festival initially focused on screening just film and video. But, as popular acceptance and interest in queer films, videos, and television programs grew in the mid-2000s, Canada’s queer film festivals found themselves at a crossroads. Once the only place queer cinema could be reliably screened, queer film festivals were now competing for space with television and the multiplexes. Some responded to this by reorienting their festivals as industry hubs, focused on nurturing the next generation of queer filmmakers. But Varro expanded Queer City Cinema’s curatorial mandate and made a space where queer artists could experiment and push the boundaries between film, performance, media and art.

Queer City Cinema remains on the vanguard of queer film festival curation in Canada. In 2006, Varro brought on Deidre Logue to curate Queering Plunder, the festival’s first expanded cinema exhibition, which included Aleesa Cohene’s Ready to Cope (pictured above). In 2017, Varro curated an all-John Waters festival featuring a campy mix of new performance art, classic queer Canadian short films alongside all of Waters’s features. This year, the 22nd year of the festival, is devoted explicitly to work by QTBIPOC (queer, trans, Black, Indigenous people of colour) and is dedicated to the memories of Tina Fontaine and Colton Bushie. Queer City Cinema is the first queer film festival in the prairie region – and indeed, perhaps in Canada – to devote an entire festival’s programming exclusively on QTBIPOC filmmakers since the Calgary’s The Fire I’ve Become ended in 1996.

Queer City Cinema – and the history of queer film festivals on the prairies that I’ve intimated in this short post –­ is living proof that scholars of queer cinema and of sexuality in Canada need to pay closer attention to the prairie region. Exciting, important, and politically necessary work is being done in the region; in many ways, the prairies are truly Canada’s new avant-garde. Those of us located in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver have much to learn from their organizers and activists.


PhotoAleesa Cohene’s Ready to Cope in Queering Plunder, Dunlop Art Gallery, Regina, 2006.

Jonathan Petrychyn is a SSHRC Doctoral Fellow and PhD Candidate in Communication & Culture at York and Ryerson Universities in Toronto. His article “Film Festivals in the White Cube: Queer City Cinema as Artistic Practice” will be free to read in the upcoming issue of the Canadian Journal of Film Studies. Sign up for the CJFS mailing list to be notified when the issue goes online.