Women are pretty fucking cool, huh? And to celebrate International Women’s Day, we turn our attention to a pretty significant event (and turning point in Toronto queer history) involving our queer sisters that often gets overlooked - the tale of The Brunswick Four.
On January 5th, 1974, Adrienne Potts, Pat Murphy, Sue Wells and Heather Elizabeth were out for a drink at Toronto’s infamous (and now closed) beer tavern, The Brunswick House. After getting some aggressive and unwelcome attention from male patrons of the bar, the ladies decided they’d had enough and took to the stage as part of the venue’s open mic night, singing a parody of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “I Enjoy Being a Girl”:
“When I see a man who’s sexist
and does something that I don’t like
I just tell him that he can fuck off
I enjoy being a dyke!
I’ve always been an uppity woman
I refuse to run — I stand and strike
'Cause I’m gay and I’m proud and I’m angry
And I enjoy being a dyke!”
Although the crowd reacted positively to the performance, the then-owner asked the women to leave, and when they refused, he called the police — claiming they were inciting a “lesbian riot.” Eight officers came and removed the women from the premises, taking them to a nearby station. As they were not charged with any crime, the women protested the arrest by refusing to leave, resulting in a physical altercation where one of the women was badly injured. They returned to the Brunny, looking for witnesses, but again collided with officers and were arrested again, resulting in five hours of physical and verbal abuse at the hands of police while in custody.
The arrest and subsequent trial received extensive media coverage, which was a first for a story pertaining to the gay and lesbian community. It also represented a clear shift in queer political organizing, as many were fed up by the police harassment and started to make the community’s presence felt within the city.
Three of the four women were charged. Two were acquitted, while one (Potts) served three months probation. (The arresting officers in the case were also charged with assault, but were ultimately acquitted after a controversial trial.)