When asked about memorable moments during his time as a student at Scarborough College, Anthony McWatt recounted attending a class in the 1980s where the Professor introduced himself saying, “I am Professor John Lee and I’m gay, and those of you who don’t like that can leave” (Ainsworth and Berkowitz 2020). Lee would become one of McWatt’s favourite teachers.   

Born in 1933, John Alan Lee lived a life full of firsts. At the age of 17, he was the first Canadian university student to visit Communist China in 1956 (Lee). Lee was the first gay male academic to go public on Canadian television on February 14, 1974 (Murray 2015, 1). Known for his activism, Lee helped found the first Canadian Gay Academic Union in 1975, organized a gay sit-in at the chief law office of Ontario and a gay kiss-in at the Ontario Legislature (Lee). 

As a scholar, Professor Lee was a sociologist whose research focused on topics such as technology, education, and love. He was a regular contributor to the Journal of Homosexuality and authored texts such as Colours of Love: An Exploration in the Ways of Loving (1976), Lovestyles (1977), and the first positive entry on Homosexuality in the Canadian Encyclopedia in 1985 (Murray 2015, 1; Lee). Professor Lee was a member of the Scarborough College faculty from 1971-1999 (Murray 2015, 2). His interest in technology led to the publication of Test Pattern: Instructional Television at Scarborough College, a sociological analysis of televised teaching at Scarborough College. Lee was also accredited by his students for having inspired them to boycott their final exam in 1984 after discussing the arbitrary nature of exams. The full list of his publications and more details about his life can be found in Lee’s autobiography, Love’s Gay Fool. 

John Lee lived his life in accordance with the Greek word kairos, or “opportune time”, and believed in the Socratic philosophy of choosing one’s time of death to avoid decline and suffering (CBC News 2014). Towards the end of his life, Lee faced health concerns that left him unable to continue activities he loved, such as gardening and canoeing. After determining that his life was “complete” and upon feeling “ready to go”, John Lee chose to pass away in December 2013 at the age of 80 (CBC News 2014).  


Ainsworth, Amelia and Christine Berkowitz. 2020. “Interview with Anthony McWatt.” Oral history conducted by Amelia Ainsworth and Christine Berkowitz, Scarborough Oral History Project, University of Toronto Scarborough. https://ark.digital.utsc.utoronto.ca/ark:/61220/utsc10816.

CBC News. 2014. “Assisted Suicide: John Alan Lee’s Story: Last Rights Series.” CBC News: The National, May 5, 2014. YouTube Video. Accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7buRQQmjTPQ.  

Lee, John A. n.d. Love’s Gay Fool. https://www.johnalanlee.com/author.htm

Mian, Mariam. 2020. “The Students of 1984 who Refused to Write Their Exams- and Got a Zero!” History of UTSC. https://historyofutsc.ca/the-students-of-1984-who-refused-to-write-their-exams-and-got-a-zero/

Murray, Steven O. 2015. “Dr. John Alan Lee: In Memoriam.” Journal of Homosexuality 62, no. 1: 1-3. https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2014.944040

Dunlop, Alan. 1984. “Quiet Moment: John Alan Lee, Controversial Professor of Sociology at Scarborough Campus, works on a piece of sculpture at Scarborough.” Toronto Star Photograph Archive, TSPA_0129323F, January 15, 1984. https://digitalarchive.tpl.ca/objects/316386/quiet-moment-john-alan-lee-controversial-professor-of-soci.