The We Demand film series, 40 years of gay, lesbian activism in Canada

Little Sisters vs Big Brother

Jim Deva, Bruce Smyth, Janine Fuller, and Mark McDonald of Little Sister’s Books - Photo courtesy of Cinemathèque

From August 25–28 the Pacific Cinémathèque of Vancouver will show the We Demand film series which will focus on three key words from the past 40 years: history, sex, and activism.

One month after Pride week and exactly 40 years after the We Demand protest, this film series is a rare and rich retrospective of the vibrant movement, which was the first recorded national political action undertaken by two hundred gay liberationists and lesbian feminist activists in Ottawa on August 28, 1971.

How the idea of the We Demand film series was born

Peter Dickinson, curator of this project says the idea occurred to him while he and Director of the Archive of Lesbian Oral Testimony office were thinking of organizing a conference which would commemorate the 40th anniversary of the protest action in Ottawa.

“That same day there were some 40 to 50 activists protesting in Vancouver on the steps of the city’s Court House, known today as the Vancouver Art Gallery,” says Dickinson. “This conference is bringing a lot of well know figures and activists [together].”

How Hookers on Davie describes a bygone age of  sex work in Vancouver

Hookers on Davie is a very important documentary which traces the “activist prostitution” that used to occur in the West End. Specifically on Davie Street. The sex workers were well organized, with no pimps and they looked out for each other. According to Dickinson, Vancouver was known as the “prostitution city of Canada.”

“It was very visible,” says Dickinson, “but, just before Expo 1986, a pressure – embodied among others by the Concern Residence of the West End (CROW) – was rising to force the prostitutes to get out of the West End [and into] Yaletown or [the] Downtown East Side.”

Dickinson says that the community became fragmented and the sex work industry was pushed underground; even more so than it was before. And the living conditions for the sex workers turned to something dangerous, as they were more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections as serious as HIV and AIDS.

Little Sisters’s vs Big Brother: A symbolic battle for LGBTQ rights

This documentary is a kind of Court thriller, a little landmark case on the 20-year legal battle waged by the bookstore Little Sister’s, which is still located at 1238 Davie Street.  The Bookstore was forced to prove that the imported materials (books, magazines, films) were not obscene. But the problem was that to prove this was more a question of who was selling it than the issue of content.

“Those same books arrived in other bookstores without problems,” says Dickinson. “[This] proves that [Little Sister’s] was discriminated [against] and that customs tried to [determine] what [people] should read or not.”

The full program on The Cinemathèque website: