Adrienne Potts, Pat Murphy, Sue Wells, and Heather (Beyer) Elizabeth were enjoying a typical night out on January 5, 1974, when an uninvited man approached them. After having his advances turned down by the women, the man became aggressive and insulting, even pouring beer on Pott’s head.
After enthusiastically singing their own improvised lyrics, “I Enjoy Being a Dyke,” to the tune of the 1950s Broadway hymn to femininity “I Enjoy Being a Girl,” the women were shortly after forcibly removed from the bar by the manager and police officers.
I don’t dress up cute and frilly
and in clothing that I don’t like.
I just go in my jeans and stompers,
I enjoy being a dyke.
I’ve always been a liberated woman
I fight for the revolution now.
I snuggle and I cuddle with my sisters,
and I don’t need a man to show me how.
I’ve always been an uppity woman
I refuse to run – I stand and strike
Cuz I’m gay and I’m proud and I’m angry
and I enjoy being a dyke.
The women were verbally harassed while in police custody and were not allowed to call a lawyer. Potts alleged that a police officer hit her and violently threw her to the ground. Three of the four were charged with different offences including disturbing the peace, obstructing justice, and hindering law enforcement. At trial, all charges were dismissed save for the one for “disturbing the peace” against Potts, who was found guilty and sentenced to three months of probation.
“I have heard that I was courageous. In retrospect, and in the present, it has always been an issue of basic survival – physical, emotional and spiritual. Maintaining one’s own integrity and a desire to positively influence the present societal circumstances in which I find myself and others.”
Potts, Murphy, and Elizabeth accused the arresting officers of assault following the trial. The Crown filed the charges after the three women supplied documentation in the form of doctor’s notes and images showing severe bruises. The police officers’ badge numbers were mixed up, and the women were unaware that their officers had switched hats. This ruse prevented the women from correctly identifying the cops at trial.
The women refused to stand when the court clerk ordered them to for a recess. The clerk commanded the court to stand once more. They declined. Following a criminal contempt of court accusation, they were taken to the Old City Hall jail cells. After a few hours, Potts and Elizabeth went back to court to apologize, but Murphy refused and said that she would rather spend 30 days in jail than pay a $25 fine. The police were declared innocent.
The lesbian and gay community, which had long been subjected to harassment by Toronto police, was angered by the Brunswick House event and subsequent police operations. A public event was planned at which “the Brunswick Four’s” legal defense fund was unveiled.
A pivotal moment in the history of GSRD rights in Canada was the Brunswick Four’s determination to fight back and the community’s rejection of the accusations and police actions. This was a major turning point in the community’s willingness to fight back against prejudice and police harassment.