On January 5th, 1974, four queer women sparked a pivotal movement in LGBTQ+ Canadian history when they performed at a karaoke event in Toronto’s Brunswick Tavern.
Sue Wells, Lamar Van Dyke, Pat Murphy, and Adrienne Rosen were only looking for a fun night when they got on stage with an original parody of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “I Enjoy Being a Girl,” changing the lyrics to fit a new title, “I Enjoy Being a Dyke.”
The sound system was cut halfway through. In an interview, Wells said that “The crowd loved it, even without the mic.” The tavern’s manager wasn’t as enthusiastic; the women were asked to leave, and when they refused, police arrived to escort them out.
At the police station, they had to wait inside – for what, they didn’t know. “We weren’t told we were arrested,” Wells recalled, going on to describe how they were eventually pushed by an officer after being denied a phone call or lawyer. The officer and Rosen engaged in a brief scuffle that culminated with the officer throwing a punch to her jaw.
Afterward, the four returned to Brunswick Tavern to retrieve their car and search for witnesses but were barred entry by the tavern security. The arrival of a squad car led to the official arrests of Rosen, Murphy, and Van Dyke, all of whom were physically assaulted during the process. Wells alone was not arrested because she had not stepped on stage.
High-profile lawyer and former Liberal Cabinet minister Judy LaMarsh took the case, and the ensuing trial sparked a considerable movement in Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community. Supporters organized fundraising dances, and hundreds of protesters attended the trial every day.
“It sort of became quite a big thing in the gay community,” Wells said in the interview. “It just became a spark that started a lot of people in the community thinking, ‘Okay, it’s time to fight back.’”
The trial revealed the full extent of the physical and verbal abuse inflicted on the three women during their arrest, as well as the fact that the group of police officers involved had come together to concoct a story against them. At the time, newspapers were referring to the tavern incident as a “lesbian riot.”
In 1976, a police report claimed that “some officers” used “abusive language in addressing the women” and justified this by framing it as a response to the women’s own language.
The women were eventually acquitted, but the trial’s legacy and significance persist into the present day. What served as ignition for the rise of the Canadian LGBTQ+ rights movement continues to be a reminder of the ongoing realities of marginalization and police brutality, the work still to be done, and the eternal importance of standing up for human rights.