A new play celebrates the sensational trial of an unsung hero of Victoria’s gay history – on the site where the event took place. A Queer Trial, written by University of Victoria professor Dr. Jennifer Wise tells the real-life story of John Butt, an openly gay man who in 1860 was acquitted of sodomy charges by two successive juries – the first of which preferred to spend a night in jail themselves sooner than agree on a conviction. Wise found the story in an article by Terry Glavin while researching The Girl Rabbi of the Golden West, the site-specific comedy she wrote for Congregation Emanu-El’s 150th anniversary. Immersing herself in the archival documents and police-court transcripts, Wise realized that John Butt’s trial would make an ideal project for UVic students learning about site-specific theatre.
With funding from UVic’s Office of Community-University Engagement, Wise developed a new course for Department of Theatre students that began in January. The production of A Queer Trial is the culmination of the student’s work and incorporates the research and knowledge of members of BC’s Indigenous, LGBTQ2, Jewish, Black, and legal communities.
Students in the class are excited to present their months of work with this musical tribute to Victoria’s minority and marginalized communities. Recent political events have emboldened attacks on LGBTQ2, Black, and Jewish communities at home and abroad. A Queer Trial satirizes bigotry in all its forms.
“We’re going to be taking this beautiful message of tolerance and humanity right into the heart of the community.” says Wise. “As we celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary this year, this play highlights an important part of our history and reminds us about how essential this message of tolerance is in our world today.”
A Queer Trial is performed in Bastion Square on Friday, April 14 at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.