Lesbian, Bisexual, Two Spirit, and Queer Women in the 1970s and 80s
Cyndia Cole came to Canada as a war resister during the Vietnam War. While a student at Simon Fraser University, she worked closely with women's studies founder Maggie Benston. Cyndia moved to Commercial Drive in 1976 when lesbians were just beginning to claim it as Amazon Land. She remembers when two lesbians who kissed were thrown out of Joe's Café, and when she and three friends were the only women pumping iron at the Britannia gym. Cyndia is a published writer, an educator, a feminist, an activist, and an artist.
First Vancouver Women's Conference · View Transcript
Interviewer: Did you attend - as I understand, there was a Vancouver, uhm, lesbian conference, I think the first one was in Vancouver.
Cydia: Oh, 1990...1981. (Were you there?) Yes. Yes. Yes, indeed I was there. Yes, that was a very heady event. Uh, possibly the best women's dance of all time. (Really?) Yes. Because the band that played at that, at the West End Community Centre, was Mama Kia.
Interviewer: What'd that entail? Were there workshops and stuff?
Cydia: Yeah, oh there were workshops, and there was this, there was this music and this dance, and the, the workshops were at, uhm, Langara. Y'know, it seemed like we were really moving up in the world to be able to rent, uhm, rooms in a place like Langara. (Hmm.) To hold, uh, and lots of different workshops on different topics and that. And then to have the dance, and maybe other social features, at the West End Community Centre on Davie Street.
Interviewer: Hmm. Were there many different ages, or was there a particular demographic?
Cyndia: Well, throughout this time I think that most of the women who, who had the courage to become overt feminists tended to be young.
Joe's Cafe - Amazon Land · View Transcript
There was a famous incident that happened in... later than what I'm talking about. I mean, my experience around this was definitely during the '70s, from '76 on, uhm, when I moved to the neighbourhood. Uhm, but, and, uhm, and I came out as a lesbian a few months later, right. (Hmm.) So those are kind of same timeline in my mind. But at a later time - I'm guessing in the early '80s - there was a famous incident in which two women were kissing at Joe's Cafe, which was a Portuguese coffee bar. And, uhm, they were thrown out for kissing in public. And then there were protests and demonstrations and boycotts of Joe's. (Hmm.) And, uhm, y'know, a transition of the ownership, I think, or the policies there or whatever. But it was the most, uh, kind of publicized incident in which, like, "We're lesbians, we have a right to be on Commercial Drive! This is...our town, y'know?" (No kidding.) As the poster said, and I mentioned in my story, "This is Amazon Land!" (laughs) This is our turf, don't, uhm, treat us like that. At least not here.
“We were just ordinary women who wanted to change our lives. We believed we could and we did. You can too.”