On Thursday, February 5, 1981, just after 11 p.m., hundreds of Toronto Police Service officers, under the direction of the Morality Squad, conducted an operation known as “Operation Soap” to search four homosexual bathhouses in downtown Toronto. Three hundred men were detained; the magnitude of the arrests was startling.
Numerous males who were held during the raids said that the police mistreated them severely, subjecting them to verbal abuse and physical assault. Detainees were typically herded into the venues’ bigger rooms—the showers or locker rooms—where they were made to stand undressed for hours.
The GSRD community reacted less than 24 hours after the raids. More than 3,000 protesters marched to the streets on February 6, 1981. Chris Bearchell, a lesbian activist, reflects on the collective shock felt by the GSRD community and larger “progressive” community in the wake of the raids.
“Women and men in the community went from disbelief to just rage.… Rather than letting that anger weigh us down—debilitate and demobilize us—we were able to channel it into a collective statement.”
Police were overrun by protesters, who forcibly occupied civic space without permission or predetermined agenda and vented their wrath. The GSRD community was done. After making their way across the city, the protesters turned their attention to the provincial legislature, where they nearly broke down the doors until police intervened and stopped them.
We have a free lesson plan available about this event, suitable for grades 5 through 8. Share it with your teacher friends!