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Trudeau, Tewksbury among first inductees into Queer Hall of Fame

Pierre Trudeau's flamboyance and tendency to provoke debate often landed him in controversy and those traits have now landed him in the Queer Hall of Fame.

Mr. Trudeau is one of five inaugural inductees into the newly-established hall, along with Olympic gold swimmer Mark Tewksbury and three other long-time activists in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

The former prime minister was a key figure in decriminalizing homosexuality and his famous partial quote - "there's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation" - helped convince Parliament to pass the law in 1969.

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Mr. Trudeau's son, Justin, said he is incredibly honoured that the work his father did is being acknowledged.

"I know that the decriminalization of homosexuality 40 years ago was something that my father was very proud of," Justin said.

"He'd be touched," he said, of his father who passed away almost nine years ago.

The former prime minister's fellow Queer Hall inductee ted northe, 72, called Mr. Trudeau his "gay hero," for the work he did to change the lives of homosexuals in Canada.

Mr. Northe, who has trademarked his name with the small t and n, said he was also very proud to be inducted into the hall along with Tewksbury.

"Because when he came out he knew his career was finished in sports," northe said.

Paul Therien, chairman of the Queer Hall of Fame, said the hall was started after his group decided they wanted to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality.

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"For lack of better terminology, Trudeau was the wrench that turned the nut," Mr. Therien laughed.

"There's not a lot of acknowledgment in the queer community of these people. They really are heroes."

Janine Fuller, an author and manager of the Little Sisters Book Store in Vancouver, and Robert Kaiser, also known as drag queen Joan-E, round out the list of this year's inductees.

Ms. Fuller has been a long-time activist for freedom of speech and equality.

Mr. Kaiser, an entertainer and activist, was the first drag queen ever awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal for his volunteering and fundraising efforts in support of people with HIV and AIDS.

Mr. Therien said Mr. Tewksbury was a natural choice because he changed the thinking about sports.

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"It broke down some barriers because there was always this stigma that you couldn't be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and be into sports." said Mr. Therien.

Mr. Tewksbury won a gold medal for Canada in 1992 after setting an Olympic record in the men's 100-metre back stroke in Barcelona, Spain.

Six years later he publicly stated he was homosexual, saying that being gay shouldn't be an issue, but it still is.

Mr. Therien said Mr. Tewksbury's work afterwards, in the community and with sports, furthered the general acceptance of the gay community in society.

Mr. Northe has been an activist in the homosexual community for five decades, travelling up and down the West Coast of North America organizing, promoting and giving speeches.

It was early in that activism when he noticed those who gave speeches dressed in drag gained more attention, so he donned a dress, too.

"I thought I would take it one step farther and wear lots of jewellery and really sparkly dresses, and then when you stood on stage everyone went 'Wow'," he chuckled.

Saturday marks the first so-called Q Ball, where inductees are recognized. The hall will be temporarily housed in Vancouver's Qmunity, B.C.'s queer resource centre.

But Mr. Therien said other plans are being considered for a stand-alone Queer Hall of Fame in Vancouver down the road.

As for the word queer, Mr. Therien concedes it wasn't that long ago that it was a really negative word, but now the community is taking it back.

He said the term unifies the old GLBT - or gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered - group.

"There are some people who don't like the word. But personally I would prefer to be called queer than many other things," he quipped.

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