SOGIC’s national and provincial sections were not formed from nothing. Years of organizing, lobbying, chance relationships, and secret meetings went into its creation. Recently I got a chance speak with Douglas Elliott, partner at Cambridge LLP and one of SOGIC national’s first co-chairs. We spoke over the phone from our respective quarantine lodgings north of Toronto. He gave me the full story, from his time working on the Ontario Bar Association’s report on AIDS, up to the final decisive vote in Mont Tremblant that created SOGIC’s national section.
ACTIVISM AND INVOLVEMENT IN THE 80S AND 90S
The story of SOGIC dates back to 1985, shortly after Elliott’s call to the bar. The Canadian Bar Association was forming a committee to look at the legal repercussions of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. However, they were not including anyone from the gay community or the AIDS movement. “The two were practically synonymous at the time,” he explains. “Back in 1985, there was no EGALE, no other organizations, the landscape of LGBT movements in Ontario was very different.”
Elliott was on the board of the AIDS Committee of Toronto at the time, and they wrote to request that one of their members be included. Tracy Tremayne-Lloyd, who was heading up the report, agreed. As a result of their efforts, the OBA was the first bar association in the world to issue a report of this kind.
In the 80s and 90s most legal work involving gay men was focused on issues related to AIDS. “To be honest I was getting a little fatigued.” Elliott said. “I wanted to do something for the LGBT community that wasn’t just AIDS related.” At this time, there was Gay Bar Association in the United States, and a section in the American Bar Association. Together with other activists like barbara findlay in British Columbia, Elliott began to formulate a plan to create something similar in Canada.
THE BEGINNINGS OF SOGIC IN ONTARIO AND BRITISH COLUMBIA
findlay had already created a group for gay and lesbian lawyers in BC when Elliott was approached by a lesbian lawyer in Toronto named Terry Hancock to create a branch in Ontario. “By this point I had been in the press a fair amount. I was out, openly gay, and clearly not afraid of controversy,” Elliott recalls. “I was asked to be the first co-chair of the Ontario organization.” The belief was that it would be better to work within the bar association rather than create a separate organization like what was happening in the United States. They anticipated some resistance, but that it would ultimately be worth the fight.
The first decision was to call the organization the Lesbian and Gay Issues Rights Committee. “There was some debate at the time about whether this was going to be just for lesbian and gay lawyers [trans and intersex people, Elliott admitted, were not a major part of the conversation at the time], or did we want to make the section about gay and lesbian rights and include allies?” The decision was made that allies would be welcomed and desired, and the section became rights based rather than identity based.
The OBA section was approved on Worlds AIDS day in 1994. The next challenge? Take the movement national, and begin seeding similar organizations in other provinces under the umbrella of the Canadian Bar Association.