Queer History 1971: the Fruit Machine

Posted on December 27, 2011 by


originally published in rabble.ca

On August 28, 1971 queer activists hosted the first large scale gay rights protest on Parliament Hill. 100 to 200 women and men stood in the pouring rain to listen to speeches from Toronto Gay Action, The Homophile Movement of Toronto and Front de Libération Homosexual. The demonstration was to follow up to a list sent to the federal government, later printed as”We Demand” in the queer magazine The Body Politic.

Build up

In 1969 homosexuality was decriminalized as long as it was between two consenting parties that were at least 21 years old. This was the beginning of the mainstream queer movement in Canada. Though the Homophile Movement had existed since the 1950s, their goal was to prove queers as ‘respectable’ citizens. However, in the early 1970s activists started to reject this white middle class queer ideal, placing the emphasis on having pride in queer culture, art, and practices instead.


There were ten demands published, all aimed towards the legal advancement of mostly gay men. They ranged from being as broad as all rights for homosexuals that straight people have, to stopping the fruit machine.

from Wikipedia:

Fruit machine” is a joking9 term for a device developed in Canada that was supposed to be able to identify homosexual people, or “fruits“. The subjects were made to view pornography, and the device measured the diameter of the pupils of the eyes (pupillary response test), perspiration, and pulse for a supposed erotic response.

The fruit machine was employed in Canada in the 1950s and 1960s during a campaign to eliminate all homosexuals from the civil service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and the military. A substantial number of workers did lose their jobs. Although funding for the “fruit machine” project was cut off in the late 1960s, the investigations continued, and the RCMP collected files on over 9,000 suspected homosexuals.[1]

The chair was like one from a dentist’s office. It had a pulley with a camera going towards the pupils. There was a black box in front of it that showed pictures. The pictures ranged from the mundane to sexually explicit photos of men and women. It had previously been determined that the pupils would dilate in relation to the amount of interest in the picture. This was called the pupillary response test.[2]

People were told the machine was to rate stress. After knowledge of its real purpose became widespread, few people volunteered for it.

Posted in: Qulture Shock