Xtra began life in 1984 as a bar/bath handout, not much bigger than a pamphlet, designed to fit in your back pocket. Today you are holding its 600th issue, a healthy, full-sized tabloid that is the cornerstone of Pink Triangle Press (PTP), a media empire that includes sister publications in Ottawa and Vancouver, The Guide (a gay travel magazine in Boston), the phone service Cruiseline, a significant presence on the web as Xtra.ca and Squirt.org, and part ownership of OUTtv. It is probably the most diversified gay media conglomerate on the planet. It is — weirdly, given its size but not its history — not for profit. Surplus revenues are either ploughed back into the enterprise or into support for cash-strapped community organizations. No one owns Pink Triangle Press. It is run by a volunteer board of directors, of which I am one.
I have a long history with PTP, an uninterrupted involvement that began when I helped produce the second issue of The Body Politic (TBP), Xtra’s predecessor, in 1972. I worked on TBP for all of its 15-year life and helped make the heart-wrenching decision to put it to sleep in 1987.
Those were tumultuous years and it’s easy for an old codger to become nostalgic for life as the high-wire act it so often seemed to be in those days, particularly now that everything (at least in Toronto, south of Eglinton) seems so comfortable and safe and mainstream and maybe just a teeny bit… dull. I remind myself then that dull is what we wanted and were fighting for, though we most certainly never thought of it that way. Not dull as in boring but dull as in not fearing for one’s job or safety, taking social acceptance for granted, being fully equal before the law with the same rights and responsibilities. We’re not all the way there but we are closer than any country in the Americas and closer than most in the world.
We don’t often get to brag, and it never seems very Canadian to do so, but I want to say out loud and proud that probably the most significant reason for this country’s primacy in the worldwide gay struggle is the continued existence, over some 35 years, of a press that focused not on making money or pleasing advertisers or tracking lifestyles (though it has done all of the above) but on building community. As the Press’s mission statement puts it, “We engage our chosen public, rousing them singly and in numbers, to think and act and grow and fill the world, to form a movement, fight for change and, in so doing, change themselves.”
I also want to break with tradition (and risk accusations of board-member toadyism) by celebrating Ken Popert, PTP’s president and CEO and the single most important individual in that community-building history. In February 1987, in the last issue of The Body Politic, I described him as “bright, eccentric, calculating, funny and wicked.” That hasn’t changed. He has the plainer virtues, too: scrupulousness and integrity. You can’t ask for much more from a CEO.
It’s traditional to expect seasoned activists with long histories to have wise things to say about the future. I have none, other than to reflect that our future will be as much our own making as our today is the gift of our working, fierce and smarts-driven past. I know that past and I sense a passion in the young to grab that knowledge, to understand where they came from, to be able to tell themselves that the world they now know was built by people not much different from themselves, people without special knowledge or money or gifts, people who didn’t ask permission, people who simply did what they felt had to be done. In that respect, at least, may the future we make together be a bright and ringing echo of the past.