Nancy Nicol

Proud Lives: Chris Bearchell
(August 16, 1953 - February 18, 2007)

© 2007 Intervention Video Inc. (16 min., DVD)
Directed and Produced by Nancy Nicol



This video is a commemoration to Chris Beachell, celebrating her life and contribution to the queer movement in Canada. 

Chris Bearchell is a towering figure in the history of gay liberation in Canada. A courageous and compassionate woman, Chris began writing for the Body Politic (TBP) in 1975, and was in the forefront of founding some of the first lesbian and gay organizations in Canada.  I had the opportunity to work with Chris in a number of campaigns and to know her for more than 20 years. In 2001, I went to do a series of video interviews with her at her home on Lasqueti Island, near Vancouver Island, B.C. for my documentary, Stand Together, in which Chris features prominently.

Chris became involved with the anti-Viet Nam war movement, and the pro-choice movement (the Campaign to Defend Dr. Henry Morgentaler) while still a teenager in Edmonton in the late 1960s. At the end of the ‘60s Chris moved to Toronto and became involved in emerging gay liberation movement. She was on the first coordinating committee of GATE, the Gay Alliance Towards Equality in Toronto, (with Tom Warner and Brian Mossop). She began writing for the Body Politic, (TBP) in 1975, Canada’s voice of the gay liberation movement. Chris joined the Body Politic governing collective in 1978 and stayed until the paper’s demise in 1987. Chris also co-founded the Lesbian Organization of Toronto (LOOT). She was at the founding meeting in 1975 of the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario (CLGRO) and was to become one of its key players.  In 1976, Chris became the first Chair of the Committee to Defend John Damien, a racing-horse trainer fired in Ontario in 1975 solely for being gay; the first test case that fought for the inclusion of non-discrimination against lesbians and gays in the Ontario Human Rights code. During 1978 Chris became involved in the Coalition to Stop Anita Bryant and in Lesbians Against the Right (LAR).

Some of the most memorable moments of Chris speaking were in public events where she had the capacity to inspire in times of great difficulty. In 1979, she spoke at a rally to defend the Body Politic, which was raided and charged under censorship laws in 1978, in its battle against state censorship. In 1981, after the mass arrests of gay men by Toronto police in raids on four gay steam baths in Toronto Chris inspired 3,000 angry demonstrators with her words and became involved in the Right to Privacy Campaign organized to defend the men arrested in the raids. In 1981 and again in 1986 she worked on the campaign to win an amendment to the Ontario Human Rights Code to include non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, traveling across the province to build that campaign in 1986. After non discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was passed by the Ontario legislature in December 1986 and the demise of the Body Politic in 1987, Chris worked with the Gay Offensive Collection on a television project with Roger’s Cable television), on an AIDS project with inner-city youth and with Maggie’s (a prostitute’s rights group and drop-in). Throughout all of these years, Chris was a strong and articulate opponent of censorship, including being among those charged in the censorship of the Body Politic, and later in the 1980s contributing to the Repeal the Youth Porn Law campaign. 

Chris died at Vancouver General Hospital, after a lengthy and courageous battle against cancer. Those of us who today live with greater openness and freedom in our lives owe much to this brave soul.

“They think that when they pick on us that they’re picking on the weakest. Well, they made a mistake this time! We’re going to show them just how strong we are. They can’t get away with this shit anymore! No more shit!

               Chris Bearchell (speaking at the demonstration protesting
the bath raids, midnight, Feb. 6, 1981, Toronto)