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Jim Egan
(1921 - 2000) Canada

Jim Egan

Activist

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Born in Toronto, Egan first came to prominence in 1949 when he began writing letters to the editor to protest sensational or misleading articles on homosexuality that were then common in North American mainstream press. He undertook this campaign at a time when there was no organized gay movement in North America.

Jim Egan and Jack NesbitThroughout his life Egan worked as a merchant seaman, biologist, carpenter, farmer, writer and environmentalist. His early gay activism spanned the years 1949 through 1964, during which time he published dozens of articles and letters that dared to present a homosexual point of view, and beacame a leading figure in the nascent world of gay activism in Toronto.

Eventually, Egan grew disappointed with what he perceived to be a lack of community support for his efforts. At the insistence of Jack Nesbit, his partner since 1948, they moved in 1964 to British Columbia, where Egan abandoned gay activism in favour of business, enviromentalism and, eventually, politics.

Egan was the first openly gay man elected to public office in Canada, serving as Regional Director for Electoral Area B of the Regional District of Comox-Strathcona, BC, from 1981 to 1993.

Jack Nesbit & Jim Egan

By the late 1980s, Egan and Nesbit had embraced gay activism once more, most spectacularly by fighting for same-sex spousal benefits all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1995. Although the claim was ultimately unsuccessful, the Court did rule that "sexual orientation" must be read into the Charter as a ground of discrimination analogous to existing grounds such as race, gender, and religion.

This ruling essentially changed the Canadian Constitution and paved the way for further high court challenges based on sexual orientation as a ground of discrimination. Egan is today widely regarded as Canada's pioneer gay activist.

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Source: excerpts from: Aldrich R. & Wotherspoon G., Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History, from WWII to Present Day, Routledge, London, 2001 - et alii

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