The Annual Halloween Queerbash
The large crowds of onlookers created an unsafe environment for members of the queer community on Halloween. When asked about Halloween in Toronto in an interview for the Globe and Mail, a 21-year-old woman responded, “It’s great because everybody’s so friendly, right? Except if you’re a faggot – that’s different.” When asked what she was doing in front of the St. Charles, the woman explained, “To throw eggs at the faggots. (Jefferson, c. 1979)”
George Hislop, cofounder of the Community Homophile Association of Toronto and prominent gay rights activist, remembers a boy who was caught for causing a disturbance telling a police officer “But officer I was only throwing eggs at the faggots. (Parkes, 2000, p. 36)”
The violence and homophobia grew to be so extreme that on October 31, 1968, four demonstrators outside the St. Charles were arrested, with the police later finding several gasoline bombs placed behind the tavern (Parkes, 2000, p. 36).
Michelle DuBarry, Toronto’s oldest drag queen and a world record holder for oldest performing drag queen in the world in 2015, remembers her days being pelted with eggs and hard objects as she entered gay bars. She never let this bother her, as she states “I wouldn’t let them get to me. I would just go home, put on a different wig and dress, and go right back out. (MacDonald, 2016, p. 16)”
Hislop credits the large crowds to local radio DJs, who would regularly announce the St. Charles Tavern party as if the parade of drag queens were the ultimate spectator event. Hislop estimates that while 90 percent of the crowd would applaud and cheer the drag queens, only the violent and hostile members of the crowd would attract any mainstream attention (Parkes, 2000, p. 36).
Other popular media sources were also guilty of encouraging crowds to gawk at the St. Charles patrons. In 1977, the Toronto Star reported the Halloween party as “homosexuals dressed in women’s clothing”, and in 1978 as the “annual parade of transvestites” (Parkes, 2000, p. 37).The years the mainstream media did not report on the annual gay bash were also the years that there was little to no violent harassment around the Tavern (Parkes, 2000, p. 37).
While the general public threatened the queer community’s safety on Halloween, the police’s role in protecting queer people has not always been effective.