Next week, Canada is marking 50 years since homosexuality was decriminalized in this country. It was 1969 when then-Justice Minister and Attorney General Pierre Elliott Trudeau declared “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation” and amended the Criminal Code to eliminate the 14-year jail sentence that was attached to same-sex sexual acts.
To commemorate the anniversary the Royal Canadian Mint announced last December that they would be minting a special edition loonie. They didn’t share much about the look of the coin and only referred to the artist as “RA” to “maximize impact” when the currency was revealed. Now we’re a week away from the unveiling and people have some thoughts on the details we know.
All the Mint would say is that the years “1969” and “2019” would be displayed with the word “equality” in both English and French. Mint spokesman Alex Reeves also explained that two Canadian LGBTQ groups were consulted when coming up with the look.
However, some people (including the spokesperson for one of the activist groups consulted) aren’t happy with the design concept, arguing that it sugarcoats and mythologizes history. The word “equality” alongside those years suggests that total sexual equality was attained in 1969, but same-sex couples weren’t permitted to marry everywhere in Canada until 2005 and members of the LGBTQ community face discrimination to this day.
The Canadian Press spoke to York University historian Tom Hooper, who explained that the change to the Criminal Code didn’t even result in fewer arrests for homosexual behaviour right away.
“Normally, I would expect decriminalization means a reduction in arrests,” Hooper said. “This is the opposite.”
He added that he would much rather see a commemoration of the first national demonstration for gay and lesbian rights held on Parliament Hill in 1971, the one-year anniversary of the new laws coming into affect.
While Hooper’s feelings on the subject are totally understandable and valid, writer RM Vaughan took a different view in a The Globe and Mail piece entitled “Canada’s new ‘gay coin’ is cause for celebration.'”
“I need no further education on how far we have to go as a society nor how much harder our leaders need to work,” Vaughan writes. “But, damn, can’t I have one minute off? One happy moment to acknowledge that while things are far from perfect, queer rights are now on a coin. A coin.”
— The Globe and Mail (@globeandmail) April 17, 2019
He explains that while there is still HUGE progress to be made, the new coin is an encouraging marker, however small, that changes have been made and we’re moving forward.
“Something you use every day for the most mundane transactions now signals to the world that queer people exist, have rights and that there is a progress model in place, however flawed. Why is this cause for anything but celebration?” Vaughan continues.
“I’m not suggesting anyone send flowers and chocolates to the PMO, but I’m getting some for myself; because I remember, and through memory know that even 10 years ago a ‘gay coin,’ as it is being dubbed, would and could not have existed.”
The commemorative coin will be unveiled in Toronto next week.