QUEERSTORY :: On an insane night in Montreal a quarter century ago, a watershed moment for the city’s LGBT movement was captured on film when a warehouse party called Sex Garage was raided by police*. Apparently anticipating blood to be spilled and fearing HIV / AIDS, latex glove-wearing Montreal police raided Sex Garage – but in doing so unwittingly galvanized previously apathetic men and women, French and English, breathing new life into LGBT Montreal in similar fashion to Stonewall in New York City.
Photographer Linda Dawn Hammond caught the Sex Garage raid on film. During this month’s Montreal Pride festival, the never-before-seen images will be on exhibit; Hammond is a festival guest of honour. She recently spoke with GGN publisher Shaun Proulx and shared her hypothesis as to ‘why’ the raid; how she cleverly avoided getting her film confiscated – and the untold personal romantic twist in the tale behind her photographs.
Shaun Proulx: How did you end up at the right place at the right time, with your camera. Or the wrong time, depending.
Linda Dawn Hammond: Sex Garage was a party by Nicholas Jenkins, who lived in New York. He had invited me to go and photograph the party.
SP: What were you doing when the police showed up?
Linda Dawn Hammond: I got to the party quite late because I was at another club, and Sex Garage was considered to be more like an after hours thing. So I arrived maybe at one in the morning. It wasn’t the most excessive party I’ve ever been to but it was a great party! I was having a hard night actually, because something awful had happened to me: I had a break up the day before and my now ex had dragged the person she had left me for to Sex Garage.
SP: And you’re there photographing it?
Linda Dawn Hammond: Yeah.
SP: Oh God.
Linda Dawn Hammond: This is the untold story of those photos. The back-story is pretty bizarre. So, I wasn’t having a good time at all. Actually, I was having a horrible time, and so was the new (now ex) partner of my ex.
SP: No damn doubt. So you’re at the party from hell – and you don’t even know it yet, but it’s about to get even more twisted.
Linda Dawn Hammond: It was, it was an awful night. Anyway, the police showed up around 3 or 4 in the morning, but I didn’t see them.
SP: How many people in the room?
Linda Dawn Hammond: I heard there were 400, provocative dancing – to an extreme.
SP: Was there open drug use?
Linda Dawn Hammond: I didn’t see that. Then the lights went up, and a rumour spread in the room about the police, that already somebody had been beaten really badly; he had been taken outside between cars. This was in fact witnessed by a friend of mine – he witnessed this guy being beaten from an adjacent loft space. He was looking down and he saw it. By the time the raid spilled out onto the street, people everywhere were upset and angry, because they knew that this had gone down; what were the cops doing there? There were about thirty of them at least. It was hard to count.
SP: What were the police doing there?
Linda Dawn Hammond: They looked kind of perplexed. They looked scared, which is maybe what provoked the violence, because people have a tendency to do things out of reaction. They blocked people from getting to their cars and their bicycles. They formed a battalion. At one point, they were three or four (feet) deep, and stroking their clubs.
SP: I wouldn’t have thought of this from Montreal, because Montreal has the reputation of being so liberal, and accepting and open-minded, right down to the core.
Linda Dawn Hammond: It is!
SP: Well of course it is, and that’s why I love Montreal. But on that night, something was obviously off.
Linda Dawn Hammond: One thing that makes is that the Oka Crisis** was happening – it had started two or three days before.
SP: I remember the stand-off, and I remember this was one long, hot summer in Canada because of it. Are you thinking tensions were building within the police force that had no place to go?
Linda Dawn Hammond: Two or three days before, a police officer had been shot and killed at the beginning of the standoff. The rumour became that Montreal police were frustrated, so they used what they thought was a soft target: the gay community.
SP: That’s how mob mentality is created and how mob action takes place. When people feel emotional about an issue, one spark is all it takes for emotions to come out. And it doesn’t matter whether that takes people to the right place for their emotions or not. In this case you think it took police to Sex Garage – where you are taking photos.
Linda Dawn Hammond: I do. Unfortunately, my flash was starting to die. It was the battery. I was trying to shoot, and it was dark. But every time I would run in with fresh battery power and photograph the cops doing what they were doing, I noticed they were removing their identification badges.
SP: Wow! They’re supposed to protect you, and now they’re hiding who they really are.
Linda Dawn Hammond: We knew we were in for something when they started doing that. Every single time I ran back in I thought: ‘Why haven’t they taken me down?” I think they thought, “Let this person shoot, and then we’ll get everything she’s got at once.” But I had already given my film to a friend of mine on a bicycle. The thing that’s different about now and then is that I was the only person with a camera there, and so the onus was on me to get those shots.
SP: People haven’t seen the photos you’ve taken ever before.
Linda Dawn Hammond: We only released three.
SP: The super famous one is of the woman being surrounded by people (above) and she’s being beaten.
Linda Dawn Hammond: That’s Wendy Stevens, and there’s a man standing in a skirt watching, though he got cropped out on occasion by some of the media.
SP: And now the twist in the tale.
Linda Dawn Hammond: The last shot that I took before I myself got hit is of the woman who had just dumped me – with a stick at her head.
SP: You ended up taking photos of your ex being beaten the night after she left you for another woman. That’s so rich.
LDH: Yeah, basically.
SP: Did you know it was her being beaten during the taking of the photos?
LDH: Yes, I did.
SP: Is there any part of you that wanted to go, and just pull her out of that?
LDH: Part of me was thinking, if there was any amusing aspect of this, it was that she was an SM top.
– This conversation was condensed and edited. Hear the entire interview. Montréal Pride commemorates the 25th anniversary of Sex Garage, exhibiting Linda Dawn Hammond’s photos at Place Émilie-Gamelin Aug. 12-16th.
* Many Sex Garage police officers are no longer with the Montreal police force. Fundraisers held post Sex Garage helped cover legal fees for those arrested and criminal charges filed against those who were part of the ensuing protest were eventually dropped.
** The Oka crisis developed from a local dispute between the town of Oka and the Mohawk community of Kanesatake. The town of Oka was developing plans to expand a golf course and residential development onto land which had traditionally been used by the Mohawk.