Based upon public domain text of the Bathhouse Raids poster from The Missing Plaque Project...
THE BATHHOUSE RAIDS
Police arrived with search warrants simultaneously at all four bathhouse* on February 5th 1981.
The attitude of the police during the raid was belligerent. They were offered keys to lockers but instead chose to use crowbars to open them. Sledge hammers were used to smash in walls.
They charged 253 people as “found-ins in a common bawdy-house”, and arrested 19 others on more serious charges. It seemed clear to them that the concern of the Police was to humiliate and degrade. While detaining some men inside a shower room one officer pointed to the shower pipes and said “gee, it’s too bad we can’t hook this up to the gas”.
Anger reverberated throughout the gay community. Activists called an emergency rally to take place the next night. To the organizers surprise the gay bar crowd, who rarely if ever attended protests, showed up in large numbers. The crowd that gathered at Yonge and Wellesley was three thousand people strong. After a speech from on top of a parked car, the march got underway.
“You had some people actually trying to light cars on fire, and other people putting them out, and thousands of people moving down Yonge St., I mean, I really felt that what the police had tried to dohad clearly backfired, because rather than us rolling over and dying, we had actually come out much stronger than we ever had been before” recalled one activist.
Police tried to block the march at Dundas St. but the crowd stormed past them, making their way to 52 Division where they went face to face with lines of police.
As the tension rose the organizers reminded the crowd that this was part a broader struggle and the Provincial Government should share in the anger expressed to the police, since the government had not provided any protections for gays and lesbians.
Soon the crowd was headed to Queen's Park. A group ran ahead and reached the front doors and began banging against them before the police could stop them.
When police finally moved to clear the crowd off the front steps they used their billy clubs to beat the protestors.
This protest was not the end of the matter. A mass movement had suddenly been sparked.
Two weeks later an even larger protest took place, with four to five thousand people in attendance.
This time the organizers tried to reach out to other communities that were under attack including having black activists speak at the rally about the harassment and discrimination the black community was facing from the police force. The fight back in response to the bath house raids is seen as turning point in the gay rights movement in Canada; It is sometimes referred to as Toronto’s equivalent of the Stonewall Riot in New York City.; Only five years later, in 1986, Ontario added sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination in it’s Human Rights Code. The Gay Pride movement was not only growing and fighting but it was begging to win.
The Names and locations of the four Bathhouses were:
- Club Baths at 231 Mutual St.:
- the Romans II Health and Recreation Spa at 742 Bay St.;
- the Richmond Street Health Emporium at260 Richmond St. E.;
- and the Barracks at 56 Windimer St..
- The video ‘Stand Together’ by Nancy Nicol. Lesbian and Gay Heritage of Toronto, by Canadian Gay Archives (Publication #5).
- With thanks to Vtape and CGLA.