The Collective Years

The Body Politic

Pink Triangle Press was born — in fact if not in name — in 1971, when a small group of people in Toronto got together to publish a gay paper. They organized themselves as a collective, a group of volunteers who shared the work and operated without a formal hierarchy. There was no owner and no one to take profits generated by the work of others. The paper that the Collective produced was The Body Politic (TBP), a journal of gay liberation news and opinion.

Although the surviving records are unclear, it appears that the first issue of TBP came off the presses on 27 October 1971 and that is the date that we now celebrate as the birthday of the Press.

TBP was operated entirely by volunteers until 1973, when some Collective members began to be paid as staff. But the Collective remained the paper's governing body. And volunteers, hundreds of them throughout the life of the magazine, continued to do most of the work that produced each issue.

TBP began as a quarterly local paper, but soon reached far beyond Toronto and went monthly in 1976. By the early '80s only a third of its 9,000 copies were sold in Toronto. Another third went to other parts of the country and the rest went to a readership found all over the world. TBP was soon known as Canada's national gay newsmagazine and gained an international reputation as a leading source of radical gay review and analysis, attracting writers from across Canada, the US, Britain and Australia.

Pink Triangle Press

On 16 July 1975, TBP was incorporated as Pink Triangle Press, a corporation without share capital or, as it is more commonly known, a not-for-profit company.

It was calculated – presciently, as it turned out (see Trials) – that if legal charges were ever laid against TBP, those charges would be brought against the corporation and its officers, leaving most Collective members untouched and able to continue to publish the magazine.

The not-for-profit status was chosen to make a statement about the Press; namely, that it would never work for the purpose of providing private profits.

Despite the incorporation and the consequent creation of a Board of Directors legally responsible for its affairs, the Collective remained the true governing body of the Press until late 1986.

The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives

A consistent proponent of the value of knowing our history, in 1973 the TBP Collective created the Canadian Gay Liberation Movement Archives, a collection of materials of historical interest gathered by TBP in the course of its activities.

Now known as the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, the small group of volunteers who maintained the ever-growing collection was given its independence in 1989 and converted itself into another not-for-profit corporation. Twenty years later, it took possession of 34 Isabella Street – a gift of the City of Toronto – where it now resides.

The trials

On January 5, 1978 Pink Triangle Press was charged with publishing "immoral, indecent and scurrilous material" — the 39th issue of The Body Politic, including the article Men Loving Boys Loving Men. It was charged again in May 1982 for an article about fist-fucking. We won both cases. But the first charge was retried after Crown appeal of the initial acquittal, and the case ended only with the lapse of a Crown appeal of the second acquittal, in October 1983.

These long court battles had two lasting effects on the Press and its values.

First, they reinforced our opposition to state censorship as a form of social control — even control of material that might be controversial within our own communities.

The second effect grew from the subject matter of the articles under charge, both about practices seen by some as beyond the bounds of conventional gay rights. Our trials confirmed our commitment to a wider struggle for liberation, and our refusal to marginalize others out of concern for "respectability."

The Toronto bathhouse raids

Never a moneymaking business, TBP reached its zenith as a political project when the drama of its trials was rolled into the popular uprising sparked by the Toronto Bathhouse Raids (1981).

From 1978 to 1982, TBP was at the heart of this prolonged and sometimes violent political struggle that transformed Toronto's gay community.

Xtra

Hoping to broaden our Toronto readership beyond the intellectual and political audience of TBP, the Collective launched Xtra in March 1984. Meant to be more upbeat and accessible than the often too-serious TBP, Xtra began as a four-page tabloid but swiftly grew.

By 1985 Xtra had taken over its parent publication's role of providing local entertainment and community event listings, and Xtra's circulation soon outpaced that of TBP.

The end of TBP & the Collective

By the mid '80s, the political storm of the trials and bathhouse raids had passed. But new challenges loomed: the Press was in deep financial trouble and TBP was losing direction in a world that had changed.

Exhausted by years of financial crises, losing its ability to attract new volunteers and grappling with the onset of the AIDS epidemic, the Collective was unable to make decisions or provide leadership. In August 1986, it broke with its non-hierarchical traditions and appointed one of its members, Ken Popert, as Interim Publisher.

That fall, it unanimously approved Ken's recommendation that the floundering TBP be shut down so that the Press could invest its remaining slender resources in saving Xtra. The 135th issue of The Body Politic, dated February 1987, was its last.

Ken carried the Press through the crisis and into solvency. He was supported in this effort by Colin Brownlee, who was hired to sell advertising, but who also introduced a more business-conscious orientation that underwrote the survival and subsequent growth of the Press.

Xtra went on to add local news coverage and political opinion to its repertoire, becoming a fully developed and well-designed community newspaper and the standard by which other gay and lesbian publications were subsequently to measure themselves.

Soon after saying goodbye to TBP, the Collective ceased to meet regularly. In December 1987, completing the transition from a collaborative effort of volunteers to a not-for-profit organization with a small paid workforce, the Collective dissolved itself, leaving the governance of the Press to its Board of Directors.