The Wilde '82 History Conference, the first North American history conference dedicated to the recovery of LGBTQ2S+ histories, took place June 30 to July 3, 1982 at Toronto Metropolitan University, then known as Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. It marked TMU as an early site of gay and lesbian resistance. The event brought together gay and lesbian theorists and historians from across North America to share research on the LGBTQ2S+ community.
“Wilde '82 was one of the earliest manifestations of collective gay and lesbian studies,” says English professor Craig Jennex who is developing a digital exhibit about the conference in collaboration with fellow English professor Jason Boyd and the Centre for Digital Humanities (CDH) at TMU, slated to launch in 2023.
Conference presenters were critical in the development of queer studies as an academic discipline. Topics covered shared a common theme of homosexual identity as culturally constructed.
Papers like “The Making of the Modern Homosexual,” “Where Gay People Come From” and “The Invention of the Homosexual” all focus on how the way we classify and categorize sexuality is not innate or naturally occurring, says Jennex. “Those are particular subject positions that become possible and logical in specific moments.”
It is this shift in thinking about gay identity that becomes a hallmark of queer theory and subsequent understandings of queerness, says Jennex.
Commemorating the 100th anniversary of Oscar Wilde's visit to Canada, the Wilde '82 conference was organized by the Canadian Gay Archives (now the The ArQuives: Canada's LGBTQ2+ Archives) and a part of Pride events for "Doing It!: Lesbian and Gay Liberation in the 80s”.
“We want to recover some of the early figures of gay and lesbian studies, who I think have largely been sidelined, if not forgotten, and provide information about the formative years of gay and lesbian studies and queer studies,” says Jason Boyd, who is also the director of the Centre for Digital Humanities. “This is really important reclamation work.”
Wilde '82 Participants outside Oakham House. Photo by Gerald Hannon, courtesy of The ArQuives.