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Saskatchewan Resources for Sexual Diversity

History of Perceptions

the Gay & Lesbian Newsmagazine
of the Prairies

Introduction | History | About | Main Index | Printable (PDF)


by Gens Hellquist

Perceptions, The Gay & Lesbian Newsmagazine of the Prairies Vol. 21, issue #2, March 5, 2003.

This issue of Perceptions marks a significant milestone in queer history in Canada. We've now been continuously publishing a queer magazine in Saskatoon for twenty years, a record no other queer publication in Canada has been able to achieve. While there have been countless gay and lesbian publications come and go in Canada, sustaining them over the long term has always been difficult. The only other entity in Canadian queer publishing with a similar record is Pink Triangle Press in Toronto who have been publishing for over thirty years starting with The Body Politic in 1971, which lasted for 16 years and produced 135 issues, and carrying on with XTRA, in Toronto, which started in 1984 and followed by Capital XTRA in Ottawa and XTRA West in Vancouver.

Perceptions has certainly never been the flashiest publication in the history of Canadian queer publishing but it has been the little magazine that has lasted over all odds. Our focus from the beginning has been on highlighting the lives of queer people on the Canadian prairies and keeping people informed about those events and people who impact on their lives. It has also provided a forum of ideas to challenge people to think about their lives and the world they inhabit.

Being involved with Perceptions for all these years has afforded me a unique opportunity to be intimately familiar with the constantly growing and evolving queer community on the prairies, across Canada and around the world. The world has truly changed in many ways but unfortunately in many ways it is much the same. When I began this journey the lives of queer people were still largely invisible and finding out news about my community and keeping that community in touch was a difficult job. While our lives are no longer invisible they are all too frequently cast in negative terms by the religious right who resent our success and keeping informed of queer life can still be difficult.

In the winter of 1982/83 discussions between the editor of Gay & Lesbian Community Centre (GLCCS) Saskatoon's newsletter and the editor of the newsletter of Gay & Lesbian Support Services (GLSS) began about merging the two publications. It didn't seem feasible for both organizations to publish a newsletter when both were having trouble operating let alone finding resources to get a newsletter out. Stuart Davidson, editior of GLCCS's newsletter, and I, who was editing GLSS's newsletter, agreed to join forces to publish one newsletter to help keep the queer community of Saskatoon and Saskatchewan informed of those events that had an impact on their lives. Perceptions was born and the first issue appeared in March of 1983. It's birth occurred after an exciting decade that saw the issues of gay men and lesbians take the stage and before a newer and darker period was about to begin.

The Centre's roots went back to 1971 when Saskatoon's first queer organization, Saskatoon Gay Liberation, appeared. It quickly became one of Canada's foremost queer organizations with a well-deserved national reputation. The 1970s were a period of heady growth for queer communities across North America with gay men, lesbians and bisexuals finally coming out in large numbers and becoming visible. It was no different in Saskatoon and across the Canadian prairies. The cry for equality was being heard across the land.

By the end of the 70s the Centre was beginning to run out of steam. It was operated solely by volunteers except for a short year in 1976/77 when it hired an executive director to manage the growing organization. Unfortunately, it burned out large numbers of volunteers and what had started as a full service organization providing a range of programs and services to the queer community became largely a dance club by the end of the decade. There was little energy left for operating phone lines or support groups as the dances paid the bills but consumed most of the energy.

GLSS began in the late 1970s in response to the need for phone lines, support groups and educational workshops that the Centre was no longer providing. It soon became a thriving organization providing resources to enable people to come out. Like the Centre it relied on volunteers to provide programs and services as well as fund raise to pay the bills.

As the 1980s dawned the electric energy of the hippie movement, queer liberation, the women's movement and the civil rights movement were increasingly under attack by the right wing. The continent was shifting to a period of greed and conservatism. Ronald Reagan was elected President during the fall election of 1981 and in the spring of 1982 the Grant Devine Tories, who proved to be no friends of gays and lesbians, swept to power in Saskatchewan. Dark clouds were gathering on the horizon.

By the time the Tories won power in Saskatchewan the Centre was falling apart as gay men and many lesbians deserted to dance at After Dark, a new commercial queer club in Saskatoon. After Dark has since evolved into Diva's, which still is Saskatoon's only queer club. By 1983 the centre had folded and its assets were sold or distributed to GLSS.

It was clear from the beginning that Perceptions would have a newsmagazine format as keeping in touch was still difficult for the queer community. The Body Politic was basically Canada's only national queer publication but it was suffering from the financial burden of the court cases filed against it by Toronto's police, with the support of the provincial government. Its format of news and views was not an easy sell for advertisers who preferred something with more glitz. Keeping people informed was seen as a crucial role for Perceptions. We wanted to provide readers with a perception or a vision of what queer life was like, and could be, in Saskatoon and on the prairies. A community without the means to share information and news would always be at a disadvantage and the mainstream media seemed only interested in reporting those sensational cases of homosexual murderers or homosexual bank robbers.

The first issue was printed on 8 ½" by 11" paper folded in half and circulated in Saskatoon. Before long it had expanded into a Saskatchewan publication covering organizations and events in Regina as well as Saskatoon. There has always been a large flow of queer people between the two major cities as people looked for new adventures or new friends. By the 1990s it had become a prairie publication covering Manitoba, Alberta as well as Saskatchewan. At that time there were a few local newsletters around but we were the only queer publication between Toronto and Vancouver and travel throughout the prairies was common for queer people.

An important role Perceptions has always assumed was listing queer resources wherever they could be found. It has never been an easy task keeping our In Your Area section up-dated as groups would send us information to be included but always neglected to inform us when that group folded a few months or years later. We have recorded the growth of our community and have gone from listing a handful of queer friendly groups and businesses to having hundreds listed each year. We know that many of our readers use those listings when travelling across the prairies. I never leave home without it.

We have always had a strong commitment to aiding people in their coming out process. Certainly our listings of community groups points to resources that will assist people in their own coming out journey. A constant comment we hear about Perceptions is how important a role it played in many people's coming out journey. Coming out is still difficult for most queer people and we know we will continue to be there, providing some direction and support for people.

Perceptions has always been a work of love for those who get involved. It certainly doesn't provide glamour or financial remuneration but the joy of hearing a thank you from a reader who has found comfort from reading an issue or an article does help compensate. Most of the work of getting each issue out on time, and we've only missed one deadline in all these years, falls onto a small group of volunteers. That group may change from time to time but many get involved for years, sometimes dropping out for a while as personal issues get in the way but often coming back to be part of the team. Over the past two decades hundreds of people have been involved in Perceptions at some level.

We have been blessed with a very loyal group of subscribers who renew each year and often send donations large and small to help keep us alive and there have been numerous instances when our survival has been in question. Somehow we always manage to survive those low points and keep plugging on. I often feel like the Energizer bunny except our battery is the kind words and donations that keep us going and going.

We've also been blessed with a loyal group of advertisers who help fund this venture. I hope you show you gratitude by supporting them. Without their support we could not exist and working with us is not always easy. The business end of running this publication always seems to fall behind as energy usually gets expended just getting an issue out.

Over the decades we have chronicled the growth and evolution of our tribe locally and internationally. We have reported on the rising epidemic of HIV and AIDS and the struggles to combat this vicious disease. We have reported on the fight for equality and the battles we have won. We have reported on the fundamentalist agenda that would strip us of what we have won. We have informed readers of new organizations and new programs that add to our quality of life. We have become an important means of documenting our history and our community. We are stored in archives in Saskatoon,in Ottawa, in Toronto, and in the United States and other places in the world. Our history will be preserved for the future through Perceptions.

Is Perceptions still needed after twenty years? The comments we receive from readers indicate it still fulfills an important place in many people's lives. It is still aiding people in their coming out journey and keeping people in touch with the larger queer community. The mainstream media still is only basically interested in the sensational issues of queer marriage, adoption and teachers. It doesn't report on the events and organizations that provide support and substance to our lives. Even our own queer media is largely focused on lifestyle issues that make it easier to sell advertising. Reporting on the diversity of our tribe is not easy and the more resources we have to do that, the stronger we will be. The fundamentalist right is actively trying to prevent any more gains in our fight for equality and would like to remove what we have won. Keeping informed is as important now as it was twenty years ago.

Will Perceptions still be around in another twenty years? I never contemplated Perceptions lasting the first twenty years when I began this journey two decades ago. If there are volunteers to keep doing the work, subscribers who send donations and/or short thank you notes with their renewal, and advertisers who still support us, then I suspect we'll still be here.