Rainbow Resource Centre in the '70s

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It’s 1973, you’re a student at the University of Manitoba, and you’re a gay man.

You keep your identity a secret, shared only with your heart; it’s not safe to share it with anyone else. Your family might disown you. Your friends might shun you. You might lose your job.

It can’t possibly be wrong to be the way you are, but everywhere you turn in society you’re told that yes, indeed, there is something deeply wrong with you. And the fact that you have a crush on that guy in your History class just makes your heart ache.

When walking to class, a photocopied poster with the word “gays” on it catches your eye. You circle around and walk by again, making sure no one sees you. Does this poster condemn you?

On your second pass, you catch three words: Gays for Equality.

Your heart thumps in your chest. You wait until the corridor is completely clear to go and read the poster.

It’s a student club. Learning of the club is shocking enough, but knowing you’re not the only gay person on campus floors you. There are enough gay people to form a club, to meet so openly and brazenly on campus. You note the group details and then hurry off before anyone catches you looking at the poster.

When that day finally comes, you nervously head to the meeting, expecting it to be tucked away in some discreet corner, clouded in stigma and shame. To your complete surprise, the doors are thrown wide open, the windows are large, the space is brightly lit, and it’s full of people.

People just like you. Your community. Your new friends and family.

Welcome to the start of what would eventually become Rainbow Resource Centre.

Founded in 1973 by Phil Graham, Gays for Equality quickly established a phone line to provide peer support and information on upcoming events and gatherings, giving gay and lesbian people a desperately-needed way to connect with others like them and start to shake off that sense of isolation and shame. Soon, the group was doing community research, bringing in guest speakers for public events, and laying the groundwork of activism and support that would define the organization for decades to come.

2023 is the fiftieth anniversary of Rainbow Resource Centre, from our bold beginnings as a student-led group at the University of Manitoba, to where we are now, the longest-continually-running 2SLGBTQ+ centre in Canada and a recognized leader in the work we do. Over the course of 2023, we’ll be sharing highlights from each decade of Rainbow’s ongoing life, so we hope you’ll keep an eye out for these historical posts and celebrate our history with us.

Fifty years seems like a long time, but it’s really just the beginning.


Photo credit:

“Gays for Equality Bulletin Board”; Gays for Equality; 1981. Creative Commons BY-NC 3.0. https://digitalcollections.lib...