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An Army of Lovers, the Exhibit: History as a tool for intergenerational connection and liberation

Recorded 29 June 2021

Speaker: El Chenier (Simon Fraser University)

When in 2019 Canada celebrated 50 years since the partial decriminalization of same-sex sex acts, it was a white, cisgender, male-dominated narrative that dominated the celebratory landscape, much of it generously funded by federal government agencies. My feminist knee jerked, and, in anticipation of the fifty-year anniversary of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women the following year, I developed an exhibit on the history of lesbians in the women’s movement. 

In this wide-ranging talk, I reflect on a diverse range of issues, including the queer disappearance of decades of women’s activism, the perversity of regional bias in Canada, the role oral history might be able to play in filling the gap left by the absence of a lesbian culture, and how history can heal the wounds of our continued political, social, and erotic marginalization. The Army of Lovers exhibit ( and this presentation marks a return to my own originary moment as a historian when documenting the past through oral interviews was radical, political, and deeply liberating.

El Chenier is a professor of history at Simon Fraser University. Their most recent publication is an introductory article aimed at non-historians titled “How to Teach the History of Sexuality Responsibly,” forthcoming in Let’s Teach About Sex: Sexuality(ies) in Higher Education, ed. Susan Hillock, University of Toronto Press. The article they are currently most pleased with is “Love-Politics: Lesbian Wedding Practices in Canada and the United States from the 1920s to the 1970s” (JHS) which sums up everything they’d put in the book should the writing of it ever become possible. 

IHR Seminar SeriesHistory of Sexuality