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Barrie gay group fights to get copies of Xtra at local library

Library refuses to carry the publication, citing lack of space

A new gay group has emerged out of the Barrie Public Library’s refusal to carry copies of Xtra.

The Barrie Library Anti-XTRA Movement (BLAM) is a community grassroots association with a mandate to make copies of Xtra available at the library. Founder Paul Cogan, 63, says there is a strong demand for the publication.

“Is Barrie closeted? Very much so,” says Cogan. “Part of the reason why [BLAM] came about is because when I relocated into Barrie from Toronto, I realized how closeted it really was. So I am trying to build a gay identity, a sense of community.

A long-time reader of Xtra, Cogan often brought copies back from his hour-long commute to Toronto. He says he felt his request to have the publication in the library was reasonable.

“They told me they don’t have the space and there’s not a level of community interest to carry it… I said there are living, breathing LGBT residents in Barrie and they would like Xtra in their library,” says Cogan. He says the library told him they already carry a gay publication — The Advocate, a US gay magazine.

Library director Al Davis says Cogan has been a “real thorn in our side.” Davis says the library doesn’t carry Xtra because there’s limited space.

“This is a city building,” says Davis. “We have to limit the availability of free papers because of the limited space we have… We have to look at all communities. If we had twice the space, we would be happy to carry Xtra. But we have a selection policy that the library board follows and Xtra doesn’t make that cut. I think Cogan’s people are trying to turn it into another issue.”

Davis says the library will not be able to carry the paper even though it carries multiple Toronto papers.

“Even with three copies [of Xtra], we’d have to give up one of our local publications. And these are the people paying the taxes. If you’re going to put in three, you might as well put in 30. We have a population of 130,000 people and only one library. And we’d have to open our policy where we’d be swamped. I left it up to Cogan to make a presentation to the library board. So far he hasn’t,” says Davis.

Gareth Kirkby, director of engagement for Pink Triangle Press, says Xtra is not lobbying for copies of its publication to be in Barrie.

“It’s fantastic people in Barrie identify Xtra as one of their must-have community papers,” says Kirkby.

Kirkby says the creation of BLAM is a sign that people in Barrie are standing up for their needs and fair treatment.

“Clearly, the Barrie library is saying Xtra is not a Barrie community paper and it’s our mandate to only carry Barrie local papers. But BLAM has pointed out there’s a significant gay and lesbian population. Barrie is not the small town it once was. It’s a place with a significantly diverse population and city hall needs to understand that. From their perspective, they point out they carry the Toronto Star. Xtra Toronto is a Toronto paper. Saying it’s not a Barrie paper doesn’t hold water,” says Kirkby.

Davis says other gay groups in Barrie do not endorse BLAM’s request to bring Xtra to town, namely Opening Closets and the local chapter of PFLAG. Xtra could not reach them to confirm the validity of this claim.

And while Davis claims Xtra may not be relevant to Barrie readers, Xtra has been closely following a court case underway in Barrie, of a former chaplain-general of the armed forces who faces seven charges, including buggery.

For more information, check out BLAM on Facebook.