A History of Gay Day

Compiled by volunteer Mercy Lingle

On May 13, 1989, CKUT dedicated a day of broadcasting called Gay Day to showcasing queer voices in protest of the homophobic murder of Montreal queer activist Joe Rose.


Activism Through Broadcast Radio

Helping provide a voice for the voiceless has always been a primary mission statement of CKUT, and fighting for justice through radical broadcasting has been a primary tactic to accomplish this. On May 13, 1989 CKUT dedicated a day of broadcasting called Gay Day to showcasing queer voices in protest of the homophobic murder of Montreal queer activist Joe Rose.

The station gathered local queer people from the community to bring together the minds of gays, lesbians, allies, and even the mothers of LGBTQ+ people to create a 24-hour long array of thoughts, music, skits, and a minute of silence for Rose.

Listen to a brief sample of Gay Day ads and promos below (01:14):


Who was Joe Rose?

As stated in the flyer from the original Gay Day event (pictured below), Joe Rose was an LGBTQ+ activist living in Montreal who was killed in a hate-motivated act. Rose was a nursing student at the time of his murder, as well as an outspoken AIDS activist.

According to Richard Burnett, founding president of the Montreal chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, Joe Rose’s name has been largely forgotten in Montreal’s queer history but CKUT’s Gay Day event stands as a historic marker of his life.


Getting Into The Details: The Programming of Gay Day

As can be seen in the draft for the programming of “Gay Day” (pictured below), there were many ideas in the works before the programming was finalized. The finalized programming ranged from an interview with Svend Robinson, the first openly gay member of Parliament, to a radio play titled “Pigeons on the Grass – Alas” by Sékai and featuring Franni Fritz-Ravenskye, Aline Blais, and Lisa Dewar.

There were coming out stories, an interview with a lesbian minister (submitted by CKDU in Halifax), stories from parents of gays and lesbians (submitted by CFRO in Vancouver), and the story of a gay man’s experience of treatment by prison officials while incarcerated. The features were vast and required the efforts of converging and connected communities.


Listen to an excerpt from the interview with Svend Robinson below (01:08):




Listen to more Gay Day excerpts below (00:33):




Safety Concerns

While many aspects of this feature have been primarily concerned with the positive community-building aspects of this event, there were concerns for the well-being of the organizers. While in the letter below, the McGill Student’s Society approved of  the Gay Day event and wished CKUT good luck in their “unique endeavour” (which can be considered coded language), they also recommended that the organizers contact the local police and university protection services.

It is crucial to remember that a murder acted as the motivation for “Gay Day” to happen, and it was not a risk-free event. Yet, the danger which surrounded “Gay Day” serves as well to illustrate the need for the activism that motivated the event.

The Community Effort of “Gay Day”

This piece of pink paper (pictured below) looks to be the original script for radio ads that ran on CKUT to promote the event. Gay Day could not have happened without the community support which CKUT received from local businesses and persons, as well as other Canadian community radio stations, some of whom submitted features as part of the event.


CKUT took out ads in Montreal Mirror, Preview Montreal, and Voir. Additionally, posters were posted around the city, calling back to the time in which this event occurred (i.e., there were no Instagram reminders). In a possible budget layout, the ads for the Mirror cost only $2 each.


Local businesses also took the opportunity to support the event by purchasing advertising in CKUT’s program guide, Statik.


Gay Day returned to the CKUT airwaves the next two following years in 1990 and 1991.


Listen to some longform selections from Gay Day below. This audio was originally compiled by the long-running CKUT lesbian program Dykes on Mykes. Thanks to the ArQuives in Toronto for helping preserve the audio.


Check out some more Gay Day materials from our archives: