From August 9 to 15, the Montréal Pride Festival will take place under the theme “Together for All.” This hybrid event will feature seven days of festivities, including four major pre-recorded shows and five virtual DJ sets in iconic locations. The festival also focuses on the health and wellness of the LGBTQ2S+ community with the presentation of mental health content, as well as the "BIPOC" communities, with conferences and discussions adapted to the realities experienced by Black, Asian, Two-Spirit, Latinx and Arab individuals. The famous Pride March will take place on August 15. The SAQ is pleased to renew its partnership for a third consecutive year.
To mark this event, we went to meet four prominent personalities of the LGBTQ2S+ community and asked them how Montreal’s club scene played a major role in the empowerment of their peers, and in the process, we asked them to share an important memory with us.
"Given that people close to me are part of the LGBTQ2S+ community, I am proud that the SAQ promotes the same values of openness and acceptance as those advocated by the Montréal Pride Festival. It is even more important for an institution such as ours to sensitize its employees to inclusion and gender diversity, and to maintain an open dialogue with everyone by setting up various initiatives such as a diversity committee, as well as by being actively involved in events that directly address the LGBTQ2S+ community, like the Montréal Pride Festival. I personally care about the happiness of those around me, and I want the same openness in their lives and in society as a whole."
– Catherine Dagenais, SAQ President and CEO
Armand Monroe: Living Legend
Armand Monroe (center right) at the first Montreal Pride March, in 1979. Source: Armand Monroe's personal archives
A living legend of the Montreal gay and drag scene, Armand Larrivée – best known under his stage name, La Monroe – was openly gay as early as the 1950s, when homosexuality was a crime. In 1958, while celebrating his 23rd birthday at the bar where he worked, the Tropical Room, his boss gave him permission to let the men dance with each other, even though it was forbidden by law. A historic moment!
"Back in 1958, there were only two gay bars in Montreal and they were both illegal. One of the owners of the Tropical Room asked me to organize and host shows for gay people only. So we organized movie nights, variety shows and dancing on Friday and Saturday nights. But guess what? Gays were allowed to dance, but... not slow dance! No pressing up against each other! It was a different era. The first time I announced dancing on the microphone, the 300 people at the bar were on fire. To my knowledge, it was the first time in Canada and Quebec that a place with a cabaret license allowed men to dance together, even though it was illegal. These were the beginnings of gay people being able to meet and celebrate with each other. At that time, I didn’t know that what I was doing would have such a great importance in the empowerment of the LGBTQ2+ community. I realize it today at 85 years old!
"After 10 years of men dancing together before it became legal, I worked as a manager at a club where I hired only gay staff to wait on tables. I had them all dress in nice white shirts and black bow ties. We did things right – and we filled the room: 350 people every night. It was packed! I remember one night I was standing up on some steps and I looked around the room and realized that I had accomplished my dreams.”
"At that time, I didn’t know that what I was doing would have such a great importance in the empowerment of the LGBTQ2+ community."
– Armand Monroe
Yvon Jussaume: the pioneer
Courtesy of Yvon Jussaume
A pioneer of the Village, Yvon Jussaume has owned several establishments, including La boîte en haut and L'un et l'autre, and was one of the first members of the Quebec LGBT Chamber of Commerce, which presented him with an award in 2019 for his contribution to the development of the Village. After a 50-year career, he retired in 2020.
"Montreal’s nightlife has played an important role for the LGBTQ2S+ community. It has allowed its members to meet and develop friendships, intimate relationships and even love. The ability for us to get together meant we could support each other, have fun, promote activism and provide work for the members of our community. I believe that it has greatly contributed to changing the way things are done in Quebec, even if there is still work to be done.
"One milestone event was undoubtedly the creation of the Quebec LGBT Chamber of Commerce in 1997, the second oldest and largest LGBT Chamber of Commerce in Canada. I would also like to highlight the founding, in 2006, of the Société de développement du Village gai de Montréal, which brings together the merchants and professionals of the Village to offer a variety of activities that support the neighbourhood. On a more personal note, I will always remember when Armand Monroe asked me to dance at the Tropical. I was so shy! It was the beginning of a great era!”
"I believe that it has greatly contributed to changing the way things are done in Quebec, even if there is still work to be done."
– Yvon Jussaume
DJ Frigid: breaking down prejudices
An emblematic figure of the queer scene since the late 1990s, DJ Frigid introduced many Montrealers to electro-clash with his Overdose shows at Club Parking, where straight and queer people mingled happily on the dance floor, before moving his decks to Unity II for Kink! shows, and then to Belmont for Beatbox. Also a musician, Frigid has several albums to his credit.
"Bar hopping and nightlife were pretty big in the 1990s and 2000s, before the popularity of cellphones and dating apps! Back then, bars were the only place to meet people from all walks of life and orientations. Since society has become more open, the LGBTQ2S+ community can meet pretty much anywhere now.
"The Overdose parties I organized every Thursday night attracted 800 to 1,000 people every week. It was completely crazy! And what I loved about those nights was the cross-over of all genres – straights, gays, queers, people in their fifties and 18 year olds. It was a very mixed crowd. I remember one night there was a woman in a veil on the dance floor and people in wheelchairs. At that moment I realized that these evenings contributed significantly to breaking down prejudices and opening doors. In all my life, as a host or an attendee, I had never experienced nights like that."
DJ Frigid and host Divine at an Overdose night at Club Parking, Courtery of Joffrey Dumas
"At that moment I realized that these evenings contributed significantly to breaking down prejudices and opening doors."
– Joffrey Dumas
Kama La Mackerel: b(l)ending gender
Crédit: Kama La Mackerel
Kama La Mackerel is the founder of GENDER B(L)ENDER, an open mic event that provided a safe space for trans, queer and non-binary artists. A multidisciplinary artist, educator, writer and mediator, Kama has laid the groundwork for Montreal's queer performance scene by presenting over 650 shows by more than 300 artists and collectives from Montreal and beyond over a five-year period.
"Montreal's parties and nightlife have certainly contributed to creating a safe space for the LGBTQ2S+ community. An event like GENDER B(L)ENDER is magical because it allows for the affirmation of the body, the self. In these spaces, all people, no matter how they identify, can express themselves and be themselves. There is no other place, not even in the artistic community, where the public can witness powerful moments like these.
"I could tell you a ton of stories! The highlights for me were really the monthly cabarets that I hosted at GENDER B(L)ENDER. What touched me the most was to see in the same evening a young trans person coming on stage and expressing themselves through their art – by reading a poem for example. And right after that, a trans woman in her sixties taking her turn on the stage to play guitar and sing. This generational space was particularly moving to me – that we were able to create moments like these. We also had some crazy burlesque performances and memorable acts over the years. There are even couples who met at GENDER B(L)ENDER and are married today!"
"In these spaces, all people, no matter how they identify, can express themselves and be themselves."
– Kama La Mackerel
Whether it is during iconic club parties, major cultural events or memorable encounters, many personalities have contributed to the empowerment of the LGBTQ2S+ community and to the evolution of social mores in Quebec. Several influential figures continue to pave the way for the new generation by creating safe spaces where art, fun and music are intertwined. These include Florence Gagnon's Lez Spread The World, DJ Mini's world-renowned DJ sets, and Plastik Patrik's Sex Garage parties at the Divers/Cité festival. The SAQ applauds Montréal Pride's educational and inclusive initiatives to build a more inclusive future for everyone.
The SAQ is a proud partner of the Montréal Pride Festival which will take place from August 9 to 15, 2021. To discover the complete program, visit fiertemtl.com/en.
*A special thank you to Mrs. Sylvie Bouchard, Mr. Monroe’s manager and niece, for the photo and the connection.