A Primer on Canada’s Premier Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Queer Women
Learn your lez-sons…
March is National Women’s History Month in the United States. Here in Canada, it’s in October – chosen to coincide with the landmark decision Edwards v Canada on October 18, 1929, which allowed for women to sit in the Senate of Canada – but we just can’t wait another eight months to applaud our favourite LGBTQ women pioneers. It’s like celebrating both American and Canadian Thanksgiving! Here, some of Canada’s most notable LGBTQ leaders.
She rocketed – well, rowed at least – into the public eye at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, winning gold medals in both the coxless pairs and eights events. Then, at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Lake Lanier, Georgia, she won another gold in the double sculls and a bronze in the quadruple event. An injury before the 2000 Olympics in Sydney forced her to pull out of competition. Shortly thereafter, she retired. In a country known for its prowess at winter sports, McBean is one of Canada’s most decorated summer Olympians. Her record led to her being made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2013. She came out after retiring from active competition and married her partner in 2014.
Her first novel (in 1996), Fall on Your Knees, won the Commonwealth Writers Prize – although, to some, its being selected as a pick by Oprah’s Book Club might be even more prestigious. Goodnight Desdemona, her 1988 play, was also the recipient of many awards. She was the host of the CBC doc series Life and Timesfor seven seasons, and of their program Doc Zone for eight seasons. Further still, in 2018, MacDonald was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, not only for her prolific literary and arts work, but her LGBTQ advocacy.
Andrew is a Toronto MPP and member of the Ontario New Democratic Party for the riding of Toronto–St. Paul’s. In a riding that traditionally votes Liberal (even though tony and generally Progressive Conservative Forest Hill sits at its centre), Andrew beat out the Liberal candidate by just over 1,000 votes in the hotly contested 2018 election. Andrew identifies as queer and once told Torontoist, “For me, it’s meant freedom, and I know that’s a provocative term considering for so many it doesn’t mean freedom… because I am finally being myself.” Andrew and her partner co-founded the Body Confidence Canada Awards and are supporters of Glad Day, the LGBT bookstore-meets-bar-meets-event-space in Toronto’s gay village.
Although mostly known for her literary work – like this year’s bestselling I’m Afraid of Men and her first work, published in 2010, God Loves Hair, a collection of stories about a brown, genderqueer kid growing up in Alberta – Shraya is also a seasoned musician. Her 2017 album, Part-Time Woman (a collaboration with the Queer Songbook Orchestra), was a critical favourite. She was also named Grand Marshall of the 2016 Toronto Pride Parade. Shraya is an assistant professor in the creative writing program at the University of Calgary.
Probably the most famous person on this list, Page is known for playing bold characters – from a 14-year-old vigilante in Hard Candy to a roller derby player in Whip It to an actual superhero in the X-Men series. She is also an outspoken public persona: in addition to her acting roles, Page hosted the Viceland series Gaycation, where she explored LGBTQ cultures around the world. Most recently, she made an impassioned speech on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, slamming Vice President Mike Pence’s anti-LGBT views that went viral on the internet.
Formerly a real estate agent and business owner, Wong-Tam entered politics in 2010 when she was elected to Toronto City Council for Ward 27 (now Ward 13–Toronto Centre). She has beaten out all opponents, most recently in the 2018 election, despite Doug Ford’s PC government redistricting ward boundaries to make them much larger. Wong-Tam’s riding covers Toronto’s gay village and she is a vocal LGBTQ activist.
DiNovo was an NDP Ontario MPP, representing Parkdale–High Park, from 2006 to 2017. She has since retired from public office and serves as the minister for Trinity–St. Paul’s Centre for Faith, Justice and the Arts. Openly bisexual, DiNovo has supported LGBTQ rights since her youth, and was the only woman to sign Canada’s first gay liberation manifesto (“We Demand”) in 1971. Among her staunch activist stances, she successfully shepherded Bill 77 (which prohibits conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth) through the provincial legislature, and tabled Bill 137 (which aimed to protect LGBTQ parental rights under the law; a similar bill put forward by the Liberals was subsequently passed).
Tegan and Sara
Tegan Rain Quin and Sara Keirsten Quin, identical twin sisters from Calgary, are both openly gay musicians who beat out Lady Gaga and Elton John for Outstanding Music Artist at the GLAAD Awards. The duo, known for bops like “Boyfriend” and Juno Award-winning “Closer,” draws inspiration from a wide range of source material including Green Day, Ace of Base, Nirvana, Pink, Tom Petty and more. Their LGBTQ advocacy is well-known, donating concert proceeds to LGBTQ causes and championing equality. Most recently, the pair started the Tegan and Sara Foundation, which fights for economic justice, health and representation for LGBTQ girls and women.
Playing right wing for Canada’s women’s hockey team, Hefford has helped the country bring home four consecutive gold medals, from 2002 in Salt Lake City to 2014 in Sochi. She also won silver at Nagano in 1998. In addition, Hefford has won seven golds and five silvers at the International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Women’s championships between 1997 and 2013. She shares three children with her partner, former teammate Kathleen Kauth.
On May 17, 2018 – the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia – social justice advocate Susan Gapka became the first trans person to be presented with the key to the city by Toronto Mayor John Tory. She has received countless other awards for her activism and also founded the Trans Lobby Group, which advocates for public funding of gender affirmation surgery. She is currently lobbying for specific human rights protections for trans people in Ontario and Canada.
Her music was the soundtrack of the 1990s and her androgynous look helped give butches a celebrity icon to call their own. Even more iconic moments followed the release of kd lang’s debut album Ingénue– perhaps most famously, lang on the cover of Vanity Fair, sitting in a barber’s chair being shaved by Cindy Crawford. lang realized young – at five years old – that she was gay, telling The Guardian, “I remember taking swimming lessons and being completely enamoured with Christy, the swimming instructor.” Her “outness” was revolutionary in the 1990s – she came out publicly in 1992, five years before Ellen’s famous coming-out episode in 1997. Her music still resonates today – go on, dare you to sing a few bars of “Constant Craving” without finishing the whole song.
As the team’s goalkeeper, McLeod helped Canada win bronze at the 2012 London Olympics in women’s soccer. She has also played for Canada in three FIFA Women’s World Cups. An ACL injury kept her from playing at the most recent Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. She came out during an interview with the CBC talking about the 2014 Sochi Olympics and Russia’s anti-gay laws. In addition, she called for a change in the Olympic charter and host-city contract language to include a clause against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
FRASER ABE is a Toronto-based writer. His work has been published in Toronto Life, The Globe and Mail, Sharp Magazine, NOW Magazine and more. When he’s not busy writing, he’s shrieking Gia Gunn quotes at his boyfriend, Colin.