At 11 p.m. on February 5, 1981, patrons of four bathhouses in downtown Toronto were surprised by a series of coordinated police raids that law enforcement officials claimed were a result of six months of undercover work into alleged prostitution and other “indecent acts.” Those inside the baths claimed that police subjected them to excessive physical and verbal mistreatment.
The following evening, a midnight march to protest police brutality started at Yonge and Wellesley streets. Confrontations with police and others broke out along University Avenue, at 52 Division’s police station on Dundas Street, and at Queen’s Park. Writer Ken Popert later described his feelings that night: “What got into me was my own anger over living in a society which finds my existence inconvenient. What got into me was my own anger over harassment on streets that are never safe for me. What got into me was my own anger over the unrelenting stream of taunts and insults from the media, coolly calculated to undermine my self-respect with every passing day.”
The raids marked a turning point for Toronto’s gay community, which would no longer tolerate derogatory treatment at its expense.
By Jamie Bradburn