Army of Lovers celebrates the histories of local lesbian feminists

Cyndia Cole, Pat Hogan, and barbara findlay share their stories in the exhibit’s opening panel

The photo is taken in the hallway of the SFU Vancouver Harbour Centre building. There are three boards that have biographies of Christopher Moore, Nora Randall, and Nancy Pollack.
The exhibit is being held at Vancouver Harbour Centre until August 21. PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

By: Olivia Visser, Staff Writer

Army of Lovers: Lesbian, Bisexual, Two Spirit, and Queer Women, 1970s and 80s is an oral and visual archival exhibit taking place at SFU’s Harbour Center campus. Running from July 14–August 21, the exhibit focuses on interviews conducted by students in professor El Chenier’s oral history class. 

Chenier explained those who participated in the feminist and lesbian communities in the ’70s and ’80s “have a lot of hard-earned wisdom to share,” and created this project as a two-way conversation between young and old generations. 

The archive itself is a trans-inclusive representation of the narratives that shaped Canada’s early queer and feminist movements. Its in-person component consists of posters lining the halls of Harbour Center, which include short biographies of prominent queer figures and quotations from interviews conducted by students. The content is available in its entirety on the Army of Lovers website, which includes audio recordings taken from the interviews. 

The in-person exhibit included other activists who were engaged with feminism and LGBTQIA2S+ activism. On its opening night, Chenier hosted a panel featuring the stories of Cyndia Cole, Pat Hogan, and barbara findlay. All three are heavily involved in BC’s lesbian and feminist movements, and have made significant cultural and systemic contributions.

Cyndia Cole is a “published writer, an educator, a feminist, an activist, and an artist.” During the Vietnam War, Cole came to Canada as a war resister. She “worked closely with women’s studies founder Maggie Benston” during her time as a SFU student. During the panel, she described her story as interesting because she “became a feminist first” before realizing she was a lesbian. 

Despite being involved in the feminist movement and feeling an urge to participate in the lesbian feminist movement, Cole didn’t believe she belonged in it. She realized she was a lesbian after having a dream about one of her friends, and subsequently sharing a kiss with her after explaining the dream. 

After a lesbian couple was kicked out of Vancouver’s Joe’s Café for kissing in 1990, Pat Hogan opened up Josephine’s Cappuccino Bar for the lesbian community. In addition, she founded the feminist business, Sounds & Furies Productions, as well as BOLDFest Bold, old(er) Lesbians and Dykes. Hogan recounted being involved in the British Columbia Federation of Women, where she was surrounded by lesbians for the first time in her life. She explained that a lesbian caucus formed within the federation because at the time many feminists were in support of women’s rights, but not lesbian rights. 

“Lesbians are no longer willing to lie and hide and live in fear,” read a quote from Nym Hughes, one of the activists featured at the exhibit.

barbara findlay is a queer feminist lawyer who became an activist after her “forced incarceration in a mental health institution for being a lesbian.” After falling in love with a woman for the first time, she “didn’t know that [they] weren’t the only ones.” She emphasized to the younger generations in the audience it was terrifying to “live from one day to the next” when she grew up. People would make educated guesses on others’ sexuality or speak in code, asking questions that referred to queer culture, such as, “Do you know Jane Rule?” Like Hogan, findlay also remembered dealing with homophobia from straight feminists. 

Despite the barriers faced by lesbians in the early feminist movement, the panellists agreed that the lesbian experience still comes with its own joys. Cole and Hogan fondly recalled attending lesbian dances in their communities, while findlay said, “It’s not sex that first comes to mind,” when thinking about the pleasures of being a lesbian. 

“The biggest thing was all of a sudden I had a mirror in which I was reflected,” said findlay.