Queer Progress

Queer Progress

From Homophobia to Homonationalism

By Tim McCaskell


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How did a social movement evolve from a small group of young radicals to the incorporation of LGBTQ communities into full citizenship on the model of Canadian multiculturalism?

Tim McCaskell contextualizes his work in gay, queer, and AIDS activism in Toronto from 1974 to 2014 within the shift from the Keynesian welfare state of the 1970s to the neoliberal economy of the new millennium. A shift that saw sexuality —once tightly regulated by conservative institutions—become an economic driver of late capitalism, and sexual minorities celebrated as a niche market. But even as it promoted legal equality, this shift increased disparity and social inequality. Today, the glue of sexual identity strains to hold together a community ever more fractured along lines of class, race, ethnicity, and gender; the celebration of LGBTQ inclusion pinkwashes injustice at home and abroad.

Queer Progress tries to make sense of this transformation by narrating the complexities and contradictions of forty years of queer politics in Canada’s largest city.

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“A Canadian political masterpiece. To feel the front line drama that gave birth to and built the Canadian LGBTQ movement, you need to read this insightful book.”

– Olivia Chow, Mayor of Toronto 

“One part memoir, one part social movement history, one part political theory and analysis, Tim McCaskell’s Queer Progress is a masterful, thought-provoking history of the movement.”

– Judy Rebick, veteran activist, feminist, journalist, and writer

Chosen as a Quill & Quire favourite release of the year!

“The fastest 500-pages of non-fiction I’ve read in a long time. Tim McCaskell goes beyond a historical or theoretical account of the strange transformation that characterize queer politics in Canada, and actually teases out the mechanics of those changes. He grounds his thorough breakdown of these movements with playful anecdotes and clear, concise political analysis.”

– Quill & Quire

Queer Progress is an essential book, one I would especially recommend to American readers, who – dare I say it? – are often incapable of seeing past their own borders.”

– Matthew Hays, Gay & Lesbian Review

“Queer Progress is a searing historical account of LGBT politics, which clarifies, critiques, and provides new ways of thinking of our queer past, present, and the work yet to be done. McCaskell’s insistence on a radical political project of queer progress makes clear that it is simply not over yet. This is an important work for our time: queer and beyond.”

– Rinaldo Walcott, Director, Women and Gender Studies Institute, University of Toronto

“Queer Progress is a refreshingly complex, nuanced, and grounded charting of “queerness” that coincides and collides with activist-academic histories of LGBTQ activism in Toronto/Canada over the past four decades. The book’s rich vignettes, meditations, and stories meaningfully probe the horizons of queer liberalism, revealing and questioning the shifting relationship of “queerness” to “the political”. It is an invaluable contribution and challenge to the project of queer social justice, pushing its readers to consider the traction and intractability of queer praxis, especially in this deeply pervasive neoliberal moment.”

– Amar Wahab, Professor of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, York University

“An important, timely, and highly readable book, Queer Progress is a thoughtful and passionate memoir by one of Canada’s leading LBGTQ and AIDS activists. Importantly, it foregrounds gender, class, and race conflicts and highlights the links between Canadian and international sexual politics. Tim McCaskell has given not only Canadians but the international LGBTQ movement an excellent, fair-minded account of the surprising way in which the efforts of a small band of radicals unwittingly laid the foundations for Pride commercialism and the search for same-sex marriage and respectability.”

– Mariana Valverde, Acting Director, Centre of Criminology and Socio-legal Studies, University of Toronto

“In his book Queer Progress, Tim McCaskell charts the accomplishments, possibilities, and distortions of the “rather queer” progress of LGBT politics in Canada over the past forty years. The book combines personal narrative, grounded in decades of activism, with a lively interpretation of contemporary debates about homonationalism, neoliberalism, and social difference. The result is a thoughtful, engaging, and must-read book for anyone interested in the history of Canadian LGBT politics.”

– Eric Mykhalovskiy, Professor of Sociology, York University

“Queer Progress is a book that will work as a crucial political intervention in the present and have lasting value as a vital piece of community history.”

– Steven Maynard, Department of History, Queen’s University

“From the 1970s to the present, homosexuals have morphed from queer to normal, from sick to healthy, from rejected to assimilated, from sex criminals to respectably married, from revolutionaries to rights advocates, from society’s subversives to servants of the state, from pariahs to patriots, from weirdos to model minority, from counter culture to niche market – all in just 50 years! How did this happen? It’s complicated! Tim McCaskell’s smart, lively, ambitious, eye-opening history moves from the personal and local to the political, national, and international, helping us all understand where we’ve come from, where we are now, and where we could go in our fight for sexual, gender, and economic democracy.”

– Jonathan Ned Katz, author, founder of OutHistory.org

“Queer Progress is a major contribution to queer men’s history focusing on Toronto from the 1970s to the present. Melding autobiography and historical documentation with analysis, this is a must-read for those interested in queer struggles, sexual liberation, and social justice.”

– Gary Kinsman,  activist, author of The Regulation of Desire, co-author of The Canadian War on Queers

“More than a mere memoir, this work offers an insightful critique of how radical politics can be displaced. This book is essential reading not simply for lesbians and gays who wish to know their histories in Canada. It is mandatory reading for those who seek to learn from activist histories in order to conceive and implement strategies to create a better world.”

– Viviane Namaste, Professor, Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Concordia University

“I couldn’t put Queer Progress down once I started. Tim McCaskell’s first-hand account of Toronto’s major sexuality rights debates and battles is riveting. Moving between the small details of particular events and his broad, convincing analysis of neoliberalism, McCaskell’s frank style and wry wit produce a text that is in parts gut-wrenching (the devastation of the AIDS crisis) and charming (his own sexual adventures). Queer Progress is necessary reading, especially for folks like me and younger, who arrived late in this story so far: we have, finally, an explanation of how and why things are in the present, and clues about what may lie ahead.”

– Andil Gosine, Associate Professor of Sociology, York University


Introduction How did we get here from there?
Part I A New World in Birth
1 Invisible
2 Getting Noticed
3 Noticed
4 Shifting Sands
Part II The Rise of the Right
5 Onslaught
6 Sex and Death
7 Plague and Panic
Part III Walking With the Devil
8 By Any Means Necessary
9 Great Expectations
10 Seduction
Part IV Model Minority
11 Courtship
12 We're Not in Kansas Anymore
13 Homonationalism
Conclusion Looking Back, Looking Forward
Acronyms and Abbreviations