VIDEO: B.C. gay rights activist featured in latest Heritage Minute

VIDEO: B.C. gay rights activist featured in latest Heritage Minute

Jim Egan, who lived in Courtenay in his later years, was a strong advocate for the LGTBQ2 community

A pioneer in gay rights activism who called Vancouver Island home in his later years is the star of Historica Canada’s most recent Heritage Minute.

Jim Egan (born in Toronto in 1921, died in Courtenay in 2000) was an activist, writer, and politician. He was one of the first Canadians to write long-form pieces in the news media from an openly gay perspective and became a grand marshal of the 1995 Toronto Pride Parade after taking a pension fight to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The latest minute, released Tuesday, highlights Egan’s landmark Supreme Court challenge in 1995, which arose after his partner Jack Nesbit was denied the spousal allowance benefit provided under the Old Age Security Act on the basis of his sexual orientation.

Though the couple lost their court challenge, it paved the way for the Supreme Court to rule that sexual orientation would be protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom — a landmark milestone for the country’s LGBTQ2 community. Egan and Nesbit were subsequently named grand marshals of the Toronto Pride Parade.

Jeff Stickler, one of the producers of the Comox Valley-based Queer Culture organization, said Egan and Nesbit were instrumental in acquiring spousal benefits and pension rights for the LGBTQ2 community.

“That was a part of legitimizing us as real citizens who are not breaking laws, who are just naturally in love with same-sex partners,” Stickler, said. “It furthered the legitimization of our way of life and it enabled people to open their minds and the laws eventually changed.”

Historica Canada president and CEO Anthony Wilson-Smith said Egan and Nesbit’s story is the first LGBTQ2-focused Heritage Minute the organization has produced.

“We wanted something that — even though it doesn’t necessarily speak to everyone — is recognizable as a big milestone to people in those communities,” Wilson-Smith said. “Certainly, the recognition that sexual orientation should be covered under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a big deal.”

Wilson-Smith said the timing of the Heritage Minute was deliberate, considering June is recognized as Pride Month for the LGBTQ2 community.

A life of activism

Egan was born and raised in Toronto. After four years in the Merchant Navy, he met Nesbit upon his return to Ontario in 1948. The two would remain partners for more than 50 years, until Nesbit’s death in 2000.

As a way to challenge homophobia and misconceptions about the gay community, Egan started penning letters to Toronto-based newspapers in the late 1940s.

His letters aimed to counter the negative portrayal of the LGBTQ2 community that still existed in the press at the time. According to Historica Canada, Egan was one of the first Canadians to do so and became known as an outspoken advocate of the LGBTQ2 community.

Egan and Nesbit eventually relocated to B.C. in the 1960s to live a more private life, according to Historica Canada. The pair settled in Courtenay, where they lived until their deaths in 2000.

”I know Jack and Jim had a home here in Courtenay and they used to have monthly socials where they invited gay men from all over the North Island,” said Stickler.

“They would open their home, to basically have the time to let their hair down, network, and meet one another. That was back in the time where there was nowhere for us to socialize.”

While living in the Valley, Egan became the Area B director for the Comox-Strathcona Regional District from 1981-1993. The couple also co-founded the Comox Valley chapter of the Island Gay Society and Egan was president of the North Island AIDS Coalition in 1994.

It was while living in the Valley where the couple launched their court case.

“Even though they lost in one sense, the recognition regarding the rights of sexual orientation was a major step forward,” said Wilson-Smith, adding that the scene in which they await the court’s verdict depicts them in their house in Courtenay.

Heritage Minutes are 60-second short films that highlight an important moment or figure in Canadian history. They were seen more than 116,000 times on TC last year and millions of times online, according to Wilson-Smith.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crofton Fire Department members on the scene of Twin Gables fire in February of 2020. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Citizens’ group calls for action at Crofton’s Twin Gables Motel

Crofton waterfront site called an eyesore and a nuisance property

North Cowichan is looking for public input through a survey as it updates its Master Transportation Plan. (File photo)
North Cowichan looking for public input on transportation

Online survey to be held until April 22

West Shore RCMP arrested a 42-year-old man April 11 following numerous reports of someone firing a rifle in a Malahat campground. (Courtesy of West Shore RCMP)
West Shore RCMP arrest man after shots fired at Malahat campground

Police received numerous reports of a man firing a rifle outside his camper trailer

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising five years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has restricted indoor dining at all restaurants in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

Restaurant association says patio rules to be clarified

Titanic was the largest and most luxurious ship in the world. Photo provided and colourized by Jiri Ferdinand.
QUIZ: How much do you know about the world’s most famous shipwreck?

Titanic sank 109 years ago today, after hitting an iceberg

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Two men were seen removing red dresses alongside the Island Highway in Oyster Bay. (Submitted photo)
Two men filmed removing red dresses from trees on highway near Ladysmith

Activists hung the dresses to raise awareness for Vancouver Island’s Murdered/Missing Women & Girls

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
Tougher COVID-19 restrictions in B.C., including travel, still ‘on the table’: Horgan

John Horgan says travel restrictions will be discussed Wednesday by the provincial cabinet

RCMP on scene yesterday at the altercation at the trailer park. (Submitted photo)
Violent altercation at Port Hardy trailer park sends one to hospital

Police say man confronted another over airsoft shooting, then was attacked with a weapon

John Albert Buchanan was found guilty of manslaughter in the 2017 death of Richard Sitar. Pictured here, Buchanan walking to the court in Nanaimo last year. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Six years including time served for Nanaimo man in bludgeoning death

John Albert Buchanan sentenced in B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo for death of Richard Sitar

Protesters occupied a road leading to Fairy Creek Watershed near Port Renfrew. (Submitted photo)
B.C. First Nation says logging activist interference not welcome at Fairy Creek

Vancouver Island’s Pacheedaht concerned about increasing polarization over forestry activities

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a password-protected membership application form. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

Most Read