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 which included the emergence of Le Front de Libération Homosexual (FLH) in 1971. That organisation, though, closed after a police raid in 1972.
- At McGill University, three teachers (Bruce Garside, John Southin and Linda Page Hollander) led a seminar course – “Biology and Social Change” – that included a discussion on gay and lesbian issues. That class morphed into a very popular seminar and drop-in in 1972 at McGill’s McClennan Library. Weekly, it attracted 50-60 McGill and non-McGill participants from different linguistic, cultural and sexual identities and was the first forum in English on gay/lesbian questions.
- Bruce Garside was eventually ousted from his position as a teacher in the Department of Philosophy because of his role in leading these activities and because of the homophobia that existed in the department.
- This seminar led to the creation of:
- a student group at McGill, Gay McGill, and
- the Gay Montreal Association/Association Homophile de Montréal (GMA).
- Gay McGill, with the support of McGill’s Student Union and the McGill Daily, began organising massively popular (2000+ people) dance parties in the Student Society Building – the “Shatner” Building – which was a “safe space” from police raids, attracting large numbers of Francophones as well as Anglophones. The SAQ, the police and McGill itself had over time tried, unsuccessfully, to shut down the dances.
- Another early and major project undertaken by Gay McGill, with the support of Bruce Garside, was the creation of Gay Line, a confidential and anonymous information and advice telephone, “Hotline”/Helpline which was funded and housed, not without controversy, by McGill’s Student Society led by its President, Robert Lantos. Volunteer Listeners for Gay Line, trained to ensure a quality listening and information service, came from both inside and outside of McGill.
- Gay Line’s stated goals, in their words, were:
- to provide information to Gays on what was happening in the community and to develop contacts for medical, religious and legal referrals
- to provide a, “rap service” for those having problems with their Gayness and to provide some counselling over the phone
- to rap with people who had anti-Gay feelings, to provide them with an outlet to learn and talk with Gays
- Gay Line proved to be a success and did, at one point, receive a Federal summer work grant. It did, however, have an increasing number of financial and space issues which led to several changes in location on the McGill campus and eventually ending up being housed in the Gay Drop-in Centre at 3439 St. Denis.
- Seeing this instability and the need for more established and stable counselling and support services for lesbians and gay men, a group of social workers (Miriam Green, Bruce Garside and Joanne Stitt), set up a Gay and Lesbian Social Services unit in 1975 at the provincially-funded Ville Marie Social Services Centre at 5 Weredale Park in Westmount.
- Working with a Gay Community Advisory Group, and noticing the difficulties encountered by Gay Line, they brought the helpline under the purview of the Ville Marie Social Services Centre, giving it a home and more permanent funding.
- After volunteers completed training provided by Tel-Aide on how to work with callers, this “new” Gay Line was advertised in the local press and, in May 1976, the calls commenced during the 7–11 p.m. daily shifts.
- A lesbian woman and a gay man, at least one of whom was bilingual to work with Francophone callers, staffed the two Gay Line phones; soon there were 20-30 calls per night.
- It began to be 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, from its beginnings, proved to be a very valuable service for the wider community because there were very few other ways in which lesbians and gay men could find information about how to meet each other or 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.
- At the same time, harassment, beatings and police raids were ever present; the major and most infamous police raids over the last decades were:
- Madame Arthur’s lesbian bar in 1974
- Truxx/Mystique in 1977
- Buds in 1984
- Sex Garage in 1990
- KOX/Katakombes in 1994
- Despite these needs, in the early 1980s, 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, however, continued to house Gay Line and provide a phone line at their premises at 5 Weredale Park, Westmount.
- Around the same time, the Francophone volunteers of Gay Line left to form Gai Écoute, which offered similar services to Francophone callers. That line still exists, now known as Interligne. At this point, Gay Line became a service for callers in English.
- To help in fundraising, in 1989, Gay Line registered as a non-profit corporation in Quebec and also obtained federal charitable status, enabling the organisation to receive donations that were tax deductible.
- In 1993, Gay Line joined the newly formed Table de Concertation des lesbiennes et gais du Québec where the President at the time, Gregg Blachford, met the President of Gai Écoute, Laurent McCutcheon, and a fruitful alliance began.
- La Table de Concertation had been set up to present a united front of lesbian and gay organisations as a reaction to the rising number of unsolved murders and assaults at that time in the Gay Village and beyond.
- La Table was successful in pushing the Quebec government to ask the Quebec Human Rights Commission to hold an enquiry into Violence and Discrimination against gays and lesbians in Quebec.
- In late 1993, Gay Line was asked, along with Gai Écoute, to give testimony at the first day of that enquiry. Our testimony made the national news broadcasts that night.
- The enquiry’s report was quite progressive for the time as it pointed the finger at the police, accusing them for its hostility towards the gay and lesbian community. But, sadly, just two months after the hearing’s report was published, the KOX/Katakombes bar was raided by Montreal police who arrested all 165 men present for having been in a “bawdy house”.
- New problems for Gay Line emerged because, with the reorganization of Social Services in Quebec in 1993, Ville Marie Social Services could no longer continue to even house Gay Line, much less finance them. Alternative accommodation had to be found which proved to be very difficult and the line was at risk of folding.
- But by July 1994, Gay Line was finally able to secure a desk and a phone in the evenings in the CCGLM/Montreal LGBTQ+ Community Centre. At that time, the CCGLM was located in Marché Jacques, which is now the Super C on rue Atateken.
- The situation for Gay Line improved considerably more when, in April 1996, Gai Écoute invited Gay Line to join them at their new premises upstairs at Fire Station 20 on rue Saint-Antoine. Only the façade of that station exists now as it has been integrated into the Palais de Congrès.
- This union with Gai Écoute allowed Gay Line to survive. Jointly, the two organisations 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 to again have a close and mutually beneficial collaboration.
- After staying for a few years in the “Fire Station”, Gay Line moved locations several times, always with Gai Écoute. First, around 1999 to 801 Sherbrooke east, then, around 2005, to 3155 rue Hochelaga which we left in 2012.
- Don Budd, an original volunteer from Gay Line’s beginnings in 1976, retired in 1998 after 22 years as a volunteer; he passed away in 2008 at the age of 88
- 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 make a phone call.
- 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 (Sexual Information Leads to Knowledge) and Gay OnLine were also created as part of CAEO to better meet the needs of the LGBTQ+ English speaking community.
- Gay Line’s service continued until it was suspended in 2012 as part of a re-evaluation of its service. It never re-opened as a telephone service. Gay OnLine services (an online chat site) were offered as a pilot project, but that program was suspended indefinitely in 2011.
- Once Gay Line and Gay Online came to an end, CAEO focused its attention on its third program, SILK. In 2013, long-time CAEO volunteer, Kimberly Wong, took on the role of Executive Director and SILK Director and, under her leadership, SILK started training volunteers to enable them to facilitate interactive and educational workshops on LGBTQ+ issues. The goal was to make the school environment a safer one for all students. English language high schools, CEGEPs and universities in the Greater Montreal area were approached and many of them invited SILK volunteers into their classrooms to provide SILK workshop to their students.
- Kimberly has continued in the role of Executive Director since 2013 and has kept the organization afloat during some lean times. During that time, SILK has trained dozens of volunteers and has facilitated hundreds of SILK workshop in schools – even during the pandemic when online workshops took the place of in-person engagements.
Gregg Blachford – August 2022
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, Founder
2010–2011: Nick Frate & Kimberly Wong
2011–2013: Erika Jahn
CAEO Québec Director Generals
2013-2021 Kimberly Wong
Executive of the Year
2009: Kimberly Wong
2010: Tim Wray
2011: Katherine Black
2012: Katherine Black
2013: Kelley Rojas
2014: Axel Féliot
2015: Jennifer Crosland
2016: Kimberly Wong
2017: Diane Wilson (2002-Present)
2018: Farin Shore
2019: Kimberly Wong
2020: Diane Wilson & Kimberly Wong
2021: BJ Lohr
2022: BJ Lohr, Diane Wilson & Kimberly Wong
Volunteer of the Year
2009: Mariel Bello
2010: Marcus Lam
2011: Suzanne Mainville
2012: Gaspare Borsellino
2013: Candice Boos & Marc Cabral
2014: Marc Cabral
2015: Erica Parente
2016: Farin Shore
2017: Jishian Ravinthiran
2018: Jishian Ravinthiran
2019: Sam Davin
2020: Gregg Blachford & Maxen Jack-Monroe
2021: Gregg Blachford & Sam Davin
2022: Fern Lou Fernandez & Jay Beccera
2009: Paul Underhay & Leo Zaccheo
2010: Peter Driscoll, Salvador Garcia-Martinez & Cory Olson
2011: Gabrielle Bouchard
2012: Gregg Blachford (1992-2012)
2013: Katherine Black
2014: Katherine Black
2015: Vinca Erdmann
2016: Chad Hanes
2017: Farin Shore & Cheryl Chu
2018: Cheryl Chu
2019: Silvana Viapiano Gonzalez
Honorable mentions: Cheryl Chu, Wes Martin & Jasper Cobb
2020: Fern Lou & BJ Lohr
2021: Maxen Jack-Monroe, Fern Lou Fernandez, Pak-Kei Wong & Laurene Lau
Honorable mentions: Brigitte Kang & Eléa Regembal
2022: Fern Lou Fernandez & Laurene Lau
Honorable mentions: Pak-Kei Wong & Gregg Blachford
In Gay Line’s absence, we recommend the following resources:
- Project 10: 514-989-4585
- West Island LGBTQ2+ 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.