The Beginnings of The Body Politic, Kensington Arts Association by Jearld Moldenhauer


Jearld Moldenhauer, Joey, Amerigo Marras, Donald Suber Corley. August, 1971. First Gay Picnic, Hanlan’s Point. Picture by Charlie Dobie

(Jearld wrote this long and generous email to Mike Hoolboom, 2010)

In late 1970 I left Berlin where I had just found work and a place to live and traveled back to Niagara Falls, New York to attend my father’s funeral. Not having enough money to return to Germany, I took the bus back to Toronto and was ‘taken in’ by two gay friends. Once again I quickly found a job and a place to live. Amerigo Marras, a young artist from Sardinia, now an architecture student at the University of Toronto, and Suber Donald Corley, a draft dodger from Mississippi, now a high school teacher in Toronto, were advertising for a roommate. Their apartment was at 65 Kendall Avenue, only a block away from the Brunswick Avenue place where I was staying. It was in this apartment that I founded (out of a backpack) Glad Day Bookshop and where the Body Politic Collective meetings were held. The Kendall address was used for both.

About seven-eight months later the couple bought a house (4 Kensington Avenue) in Kensington Market with the intention to turn the ground floor into an art gallery. They created a legal entity called the Kensington Arts Association and I was included as a ‘Board Member.’ Amerigo was quite a prolific artist and never stopped producing canvases. (Where are his canvases? He definitely had a strong and personal aesthetic spark. I hope some have survived.) We lived on the second floor of the house. The household included John Scythes (now owner of Glad Day). I met John one rainy night when he wandered into an early CHAT Dance, then held at the Holy Trinity Church. John more or less attached himself to me. He was searching for a way to come out and create a life away from his parents (an Anglo-Canadian blue-blood story). For Don and Amerigo he was a welcome addition, since even in his early 20’s John was a walking encyclopedia of construction/renovation procedures.

There was an unheated shed attached to the back of the house and it was agreed that I could use it for both a Body Politic office/layout room and for the fledgling Glad Day Bookshop retail space. So much happened in that tiny space, and so many people somehow found their way to this almost invisible cauldron of gay radicalism. The memory of the energy of those times still burns strong within me.

In issue five of our bi-monthly effort, Gerald Hannon (yes, there were two: one Gerald and one Jearld) published his first sympathetic investigation into of the lives of men who loved boys. ‘Of Men and Little Boys’ caused a major media firestorm that August of 1972. Newspaper editorials across Canada called for our arrest. Corley and Marras didn’t exactly freak out, but they did get cold feet. Their cause was related to promoting contemporary art, whereas mine was to nurture a (then) radical social movement. I was asked to leave, meaning The Body Politic and Glad Day. Notice was also given to John Scythes.

As far as the first gay pride effort goes, I have absolutely no memory of either Amerigo or Don being involved. Gay Pride, as a well-organized community event, was something we started celebrating in August of 1972. This was done to give tribute to Justice Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s decriminalization of homosexual acts in August of 1969 (footnote: Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau introduced Bill C-150 in December 21, 1967 and it passed third reading in the House of Commons in December 21, 1967. It decriminalized homosexuality (leading Trudeau to quip “the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation,” allowed abortion and contraception, and regulated gambling and gun control.,_1968-69), as well as to try and forge a more Canadian identity, rather than link Canadian society to events south of the border. The media scandal, my eviction, and Gay Pride all happened within the same month or so.

Backing up a bit, I recall that in August 1971 a group called Toronto Gay Action (I was a member) organized a National Gay and Lesbian Protest March in Ottawa. It was this group that later morphed into The Body Politic collective sometime during September-October. We had meetings to try and decide where to focus our energy after the demonstration and it was my suggestion to create a newspaper/journal.

The first actual Gay Pride March (or protest) also took place in 1971, not 1980 or whatever year things finally got ‘accepted’ by City Hall. Why Toronto denies its own history I can only guess. Perhaps today’s community is largely a relatively conservative bunch and accepting your left wing roots isn’t something they can easily identify with. Nonetheless this is both curious and disturbing. The gay pride march consisted of about a dozen of us (All male? Yes I do think so! How politically incorrect!) marching with placards from Queen’s Park down Yonge Street (on the sidewalk since we did not have a permit) to City Hall.

As far as the involvement of Don or Amerigo goes, I have no memory of their participation in the Ottawa March, Toronto 1971 March or, events of August 1972. It is possible that they attended the large, successful picnic we held at Hanlan’s Point in August 1972. I recall seeing at least 100-200 people at the beach event.

Amerigo contributed art work for a few early issues of The Body Politic. I can’t recall if he was ever a ‘collective member’ but that is easy enough to find out, just look at the early (1-5) issues of the paper. Amerigo was a fire ball of energy and had very left political leanings. I think it’s fair to say that we encouraged each other in our creative and radical pursuits. Unfortunately he decided to break the bond when he felt that events put his future in jeopardy.

That’s the main part of the story. John Scythes and I ended up buying a house together as a result of our eviction from 4 Kensington. This was 139 Seaton Street where Glad Day, The Body Politic and eventually the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives found a home. The story of Don and Amerigo continued for some years. Unfortunately my knowledge of the other chapters is minimal. They eventually left Canada after a political scandal and bought a building somewhere on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Amerigo died of AIDS in 1999. Don visited me in my Boston Glad Day sometime after Amerigo’s passing. End of story.