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Canada's 'official homosexual' George Hislop dies at age 78

lilnick

TRIBE Member
That was a few days ago now but...

The Celebration of George's life will be held at Woody's on Sunday, November 6, from 5 pm to 8 pm. All are welcome.

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Canada's 'official homosexual' George Hislop dies at age 78 Always available to gay people in trouble
Founded country's first gay rights organization
CHRISTIAN COTRONEO
TORONTO STAR REPORTER

George Hislop's phone number was always in the book.

And he paid a steep price for it.

There were the 3 a.m. phone calls, death threats, even a call from a man who had just murdered a 12-year-old boy.

But even at a time when being gay was illegal, Hislop wanted his name in the phone book.

"I said to George, `Why don't you get your number unlisted?'" recalled longtime friend Peter Bochove. "He said, `Well, what if someone needs to reach me?'"

"And I said, `Who?'"

"He said, `I never met him yet. It might be somebody who needs to talk.'"

That lifeline ended yesterday at Toronto Grace Hospital, where Hislop succumbed to a long illness at age 78.

A 35-year activist for gay rights, friends say he never came out of the closet – because he had never spent any time there.

"George had a wonderful advantage over a lot of gay men," Bochove said. "He grew up in a family environment where he was treated like the person he was. His sexuality was never an issue."

And Hislop knew what to do with his advantage.

"He had a finely honed sense of injustice and when that was offended in any way shape or form, he had to do something about it."

That quality, however, could also be a trial in a world where homosexuality was illegal. And the threat of a beating loomed ever large.

"He was Canada's official homosexual for many years,"recalled friend and lawyer Doug Elliott. "He really felt that, despite all the hate calls and things like that, he always felt that it was important that he be available to gay people in trouble."

After homosexual acts between consenting adults were finally removed from the Criminal Code in 1969, Hislop wasted little time in founding the city's first gay rights group – "which was really the first gay rights organization in the country," Elliott said.

He founded Gay Day in 1970, which would eventually evolve into the massive celebration known as Pride Week. He helped rally thousands to protest police raids on bathhouses in 1981. Hislop also helped organize legal help for those convicted.

One night in 1977, Saul Betesh, one of three men convicted of murdering 12-year-old Emmanuel Jacques, took advantage of Hislop's open-telephone policy.

"He called George and told George he had killed this boy, and where the body was hidden," Bochove recalled. "So George had to deal with all of that – and did so. He arranged for him to get a lawyer, he called the police, got him to turn himself in."

The discovery that Hislop had esophageal cancer came after he learned he had Parkinson's disease, diabetes and an extremely weak heart.

But even during his long illness, Hislop led a campaign against the federal government for survivor benefits for widowed same-sex partners. His own partner of 28 years, art director Ron Shearer, died in 1986.

True to character, Hislop emerged victorious, receiving a cheque in the mail just six weeks ago. But he never managed to take the cruise he had planned.

Indeed, Hislop's final days were spent in hospital surrounded by a steady stream of friends and supporters, including one-time political rival and longtime friend NDP Leader Jack Layton.

Hislop often held court in a bathhouse on Maitland Ave., regaling listeners with tales about the gay community.

But even his legendary fondness for bathhouses came in handy.

In 1988, when Bochove learned the city wasn't renewing leases for bathhouses, he sued the City of Toronto.

"George Hislop was accepted by the court as an expert witness," Bochove recalled, with a chuckle. "In fact, Judge Harold referred to him in his decision as a habitué of gay bathhouses for the past four and a half decades – which tickled George. But his very expert testimony won us the case. There's no doubt in my mind. When George sat down to talk, people would listen."

And more...

Geroge Hislop
 
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Eclectic

TRIBE Member
Wow, I'd never heard of him before this....but he sounds like an amazing man.

I'm sure he'll be missed.

R.I.P.
 

new to t.o.

TRIBE Member
He was amazing. A good pal of mine is a 76-year-old gay man who worked with George & can tells amazing (& hilarious) stories of being gay in Toronto in the 50s and 60s.
 
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