Posts Tagged ‘glbt issues’
In The Globe and Mail, Brad Wheeler interviews DuBarry, the oldest performing drag queen not only in Toronto but the world.
There was a time when it was a drag for men to wear dresses, but times have changed. Last month, Toronto’s Michelle DuBarry (a.k.a. Russell Alldread) was recognized by Guinness World Records as the oldest performing drag queen. We chatted with the celebrated performer by phone.
It’s improper to ask a lady her age, but is it okay to ask a drag queen?
Of course it is. I’m a man who wears dresses, and I’m 84 now. I don’t feel 84, actually.
Well, you don’t sound a day over 78. Can you talk about your early days as drag queen in Toronto?
Well, it was illegal in the 1950s, of course. We started off having little shows, wearing suits and ties, with a rose in the lapel. We would mime songs. Then we began to wear dresses, which started things. When the police came by to see what was happening, they wanted to charge us. They didn’t, but they did make sure we had men’s underwear on. [Laughs.]
So it was an underground thing?
I never thought of it as underground. I was doing what I wanted to do. In the fifties, I did midnight Shakespeare at the Trinity Quadrangle, where I was on stage with Lorne Greene. I was holding a spear. In the sixties, I got into professional drag at Club 511 [on Yonge Street]. It was all about loving theatre and doing miniature Broadway shows in drag. And, of course, there were Halloween nights at the St. Charles Tavern, where the crowds were out throwing ink and everything else.
At NOW Toronto, James Dubro commemorates the 35th anniversary of the police raids which kick-started Canada’s gay rights movement.
It was Toronto’s Stonewall, a brutal police raid that brought the many divided elements of the gay community together on the streets to protest in large numbers for the first time.
On February 5, 1981, 150 Toronto police officers armed with crowbars, billy clubs and sledgehammers carried out violent raids on four gay bathhouses.
The cops roughed up and arrested 289 mostly gay men on prostitution and indecency charges or as “found-ins at a common bawdy house.” Twenty more, including owners and staff at the bathhouses, were charged with being “keepers of a common bawdy house.”
Except for the roundup of suspected dissidents during the imposition of the War Measures Act in Quebec in 1970, the raids were the largest police action to that point in Canada.
Operation Soap, the cops’ code name for the raids, inspired novelist Margaret Atwood to wonder, tongue-in-cheek, “What do the police have against cleanliness?” Indeed, the majority of city councillors wanted to know the same thing and ordered an independent review by Arnold Bruner on relations between the police and “the homosexual community.”
Outrage as well as fear of outings, firings and suicides of gay men caught up in the raids led to the largest gay rights demonstrations the country had ever seen.
On the eve of the 35th anniversary of the raids, questions still remain: Why did the police never apologize? Who gave the order?
No one knows, or, at least, no one is telling.