George Hislop (June 3, 1927-October 8, 2005) was one of Canada's most influential gay activists. He was the first openly gay candidate for municipal office in Canada, as well as the first openly gay candidate for any political office in Ontario (and only the second in Canada after Robert Douglas Cook), and was a key figure in the early development of Toronto's gay community.
Hislop studied speech and drama at the University of Toronto, graduating in 1949. He subsequently worked as an actor, and ran an interior design company with his partner, Ron Shearer.
In 1971, Hislop co-founded the Community Homophile Association of Toronto, one of Canada's first organizations for gays and lesbians. On August 28, 1971, he also organized the first Canadian gay rights demonstrations on Parliament Hill.
In 1980, Hislop ran for Toronto City Council. He won the support of then Mayor John Sewell, a move that contributed to Sewell's defeat. The Toronto police association openly campaigned against both Sewell and Hislop in the election. The following year, Hislop ran in the 1981 provincial election as an independent candidate in protest against the 1981 Toronto bathhouse raids. Hislop was himself charged as a result of these raids, as part-owner of the Barracks bathhouse. He placed fourth with 2,677 votes (9.3% of the total), a strong finish for an independent candidate.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, Hislop remained active as a business owner and activist.
In 2003, Hislop was nominated for the Order of Ontario by George Smitherman. Also that year, Hislop was one of several gay activists who launched a class action lawsuit against the federal government. The government had extended Canada Pension Plan benefits to the surviving same-sex partners of deceased pensioners as of 1998, but the change was not retroactive to earlier deaths. Shearer had died in 1986, making Hislop ineligible for survivor benefits.
The suit aimed to have retroactive benefits extended back to the 1985 inclusion of gay and lesbian equality rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. On November 26, 2004, the lawsuit ended in victory for Hislop and his co-plaintiffs, although the federal government subsequently filed a controversial appeal of the decision. The federal government lost this appeal on March 1, 2007, when the Supreme Court ruled in Hislop's favor.
Also in 2004, Hislop was the grand marshal of Toronto's Pride parade.
In 2005, Hislop was the first-ever recipient of the International Lesbian and Gay Law Association's Karl Heinrich Ulrichs Award in honor of his contributions to the advancement of LGBT equality in Canada, and was cited by federal New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton as an important influence on Layton's support of LGBT issues.
In June of 2005, Toronto's gay community was briefly but seriously shaken by an erroneous rumor that Hislop had died. In August of that year, Hislop received his first pension cheque under the 2004 court decision.
On October 9, the Toronto Star reported that Hislop, who had diabetes, Parkinson's disease and esophageal cancer, had died in hospital the previous day. In an obituary notice, Eye Weekly noted that Hislop had been widely regarded as "unofficial mayor of the Toronto gay community".
In October 2005, just one week after his passing, Hislop was posthumously awarded the inaugural Jonathan R. Steinert and Fernando G. Ferreiro Award, Canada's largest award for contributions to LGBT communities. The $12,500 award, established by the Lesbian and Gay Community Appeal Foundation, would be given to Hislop's estate.
A park in the city's Church and Wellesley neighborhood is also named in Hislop's honor.
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