History of Gay Line & CAEO Québec
- In the early 1970s, North America and Europe saw a flourishing of gay and lesbian activism following the New York Stonewall Bar Riots in 1969.
- Montreal experienced much activism as part of this movement and, in this new spirit of community, a group of social workers (Miriam Green, Bruce Garside and Joanne Stitt), realizing that there was a need for counselling and support for lesbians and gay men, set up “Gay and Lesbian Social Services” unit in 1975 at the provincially-funded Ville Marie Social Services Centre.
- After a year or so, and working with a Gay Community Advisory Group, they realized that there was a need for an anonymous information and advice telephone helpline for gays and lesbians. They decided to call it Gay Line and the Ville Marie Social Services Centre agreed to fund it.
- After volunteers completed training provided by Tel-Aide on how to work with callers, Gay Line was advertised in the local press and, in May 1976, the calls commenced during the 7 – 11 p.m. daily shifts.
- Gay Line was the first such helpline in Montreal, although there is some evidence that the student group Gay McGill ran an informal telephone helpline out of their offices in the early 1970’s funded by McGill’s student association.
- When Gay Line started, a lesbian and a gay male, at least one of whom was bilingual to work with francophone callers, staffed the two Gay Line phones.
- It soon became clear that the volunteers couldn’t provide some callers with all the help they needed on the phone. Therefore, social workers began to see some callers face-to-face to provide free ongoing professional counselling. There were up to 100 clients on the books at any one time.
- Gay Line proved to be very useful because, during this time period, there was virtually no other way in which lesbians and gay men could find information about how to meet other gays or lesbians or any other place where they could ask questions about sexual orientation and have someone listen emphatically to their concerns. Homosexuality was virtually invisible at that time and if it ever did get commented on in the media, the coverage was inevitably negative.
- In the early 1980s, the francophone volunteers of Gay Line left to form Gai Écoute, which offered similar services to the French-speaking community and it still exists, now known as Interligne.
- Around this same time, Gay Line’s professional counselling services were eliminated as a result of severe government cutbacks. From that point on, Gay Line had to support itself financially through outside donations, contributions from volunteers and fundraising events. Ville Marie Social Services, though, continued to house Gay Line and provide a phone line.
- To help in fundraising, in 1989, Gay Line registered as a non-profit corporation in Quebec and also obtained federal charitable status, enabling the organization to receive donations that were tax deductible.
- In 1993, with the reorganization of Social Services in Quebec, Ville Marie Social Services could no longer continue to even house Gay Line so alternative accommodation had to be found which proved to be difficult.
- The situation improved considerably when, in 1996, Gai Écoute invited Gay Line to join them at their new premises, which allowed Gay Line to survive. Jointly, the two organizations were able to offer a bilingual service to all Quebecers via a free 1-888 number. So, after fifteen years of separation, Gay Line and Gai Écoute began a close mutually beneficial collaboration.
- Don Budd retired from Gay Line after 25 years as a volunteer: 1976 – 1998.
- Though women played a prominent part in the early stages of Gay Line, the proportion of female to male volunteers was often low. From 1999 to 2004, though, Gay Line had two consecutive female Presidents, Clara Gabriel and Andrea Zanin.
- During the 2000s, Gay Line dedicated itself to better understanding the needs of trans callers as well as callers from different ethnocultural groups.
- At the 20th, 25th and 30th anniversaries of Gay Line in 1996, 2001 and 2006, parties were held to celebrate its longevity, proud that Gay Line was the longest continually existing gay group in Montreal.
- During the annual Divers-Cité/Pride celebrations in Montreal during the late 1990s and 2000s, Gay Line would have a table at the Community Day and would march in the Pride Parade.
- At its peak, Gay Line received about 2,000 calls per year and had about 20-30 volunteers at any one time. But, over time, the number of callers decreased mainly because the LGBTQ+ population was able to get information about where to meet others from an increasing number of alternative sources, mainly online, so there was less need to phone in. As the numbers of callers decreased, there was a faster turnover in volunteers as the low number of callers discouraged some volunteers.
- In 2008, Gay Line reorganized itself to help better need the different needs of the community. The President at the time, Nick Frate, took the lead in creating CAEO Québec (the Canadian Association of Education and Outreach). Gay Line was put under this new umbrella. SILK and Gay OnLine were also created as part of CAEO to better meet the needs of the LGBTQ+ English speaking community.
- Gay Line service continued until it was suspended in 2012 as part of a reevaluation of its service. It never re-opened as a telephone service. Gay OnLine services were offered as a pilot project, but the program was suspended indefinitely in 2011.
- SILK continues as a program where trained volunteers go into English language Montreal area high schools to provide interactive and educational workshops to students on LGBTQ+ issues in the aim of making the environment a safer space for all students.
Written by Gregg Blachford – September 2015
Gay Line Presidents
1976–1982: Bruce Garside, Joanne Stitt, Kamal Sahmi of Ville Marie SS
1982–1986: William Raso
1986–1988: David Aveline
1988–1990: Alan Taliaferro
1990–1993: Richard Scott
1993–1996: Gregg Blachford
1996–1997: Jean Pichette
1997–1999: Bruce Walsh
1999–2002: Clara Gabriel
2002–2005: Andrea Zanin
2005–2007: David Wright
2007–2008: Luke Nicholson
2008–2009: Nick Frate
CAEO Québec Presidents
2009–2010: Nick Frate
2010–2011: Nick Frate & Kimberly Wong
2011–2013: Erika Jahn
CAEO Québec Director Generals
2013-2017: Kimberly Wong
In Gay Line’s absence, we recommend the following resources:
- Project 10 Listening Line: 514-989-4585
- Beaconsfield LGBTQ Youth Centre: 514-794-5428
- Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868. Canada’s only free, national, bilingual, confidential and anonymous, 24-hour telephone and online counselling service for youth.
- Interligne: 1-888-505-1010. A French language listening service for gays and lesbians in the region of Quebec.