We’re proud to say that by the end of this month, Capital Xtra will have 94 purple newspaper boxes on the streets in the Ottawa-Gatineau area. They’re expensive, a big-ticket item for this small, not-for profit newspaper, and they’re there, frankly, because you’ve been asking for them.
Each of those boxes serves dual functions: getting our newspaper to you without your having to travel great distances, and marking out queer territory for the whole city to see. That’s 94 bright, proud, purple boxes telling the world that gays and lesbians are everywhere. Yes, even in Perth and Carleton Place, where new boxes will be rolled out this month.
Those purple boxes seem to attract more than just our queer readers. Bigots are targeting them with increasing frequency. In recent weeks, we’ve had boxes screwed shut (a task requiring tools and determination) in the Westboro neighbourhood. We’ve had a thick layer of paint spilled on top of boxes in several locations. And a swastika was painted on our box in front of Centretown Pub just last week (a charming reminder that the Nazis sent gays to the concentration camps and gas ovens). We know these bigots are not merely asserting their educated reading preferences; they’re really aiming at you by setting their sights on our more visible presence. We will, of course, never, not ever, let them intimidate or discourage us. We remain resolute on your behalf, as much as on ours.
We shall also remain firm with city hall, as it gears up this fall to regulate the presence of street boxes. Our community has only in recent years been able to take its place in the sun, with Capital Xtra distribution boxes beside those of media giants like Canwest Global. We’re not prepared to see any compromise in our community’s right to easy access to their community newspaper of choice.
Capital Xtra recently submitted a position paper to city hall outlining our stand. The gist of it is that any regulation has to take into consideration the unequal position of traditionally oppressed communities and other minority communities. Communities served by queer papers, African-Canadian papers, Chinese community papers and “alternative” publications (think Xpress) must be given a chance to catch up with the mainstream communities and their dominant newspapers.
A multitude of voices and perspectives must be allowed on the streets. In particular, minority papers must be dominant in neighbourhoods that are home to concentrated numbers of those minority’s members. And members of minority groups must also be able to find a copy of their community newspaper throughout the city with relative ease. No solution is acceptable if it locks in the domination of the streets by the Canwests and the Torstars – and their narrow world views – at the expense of the voices of traditionally oppressed minority communities like ours.
Our position paper is clear: “Any city regulation must create genuine diversity of options for readers in search of news sources that reflect their multiple identities, interests and communities.
“Democracy functions best when citizens take their responsibility to be actively involved. Active citizens require many sources of information. They need access to different perspectives on the issues of the day. Minority communities have additional needs of access to the news that affects them, that helps them build and reinforce their unique cultures, that reinforces their sense of self and pride and belonging. All of these higher functions are served by media and are dependent on easy access to each citizen’s, each community member’s, news source of choice.”
We at Capital Xtra understand the need to bring some order to the presence of street boxes. But we are determined that it will not be at the expense of the aspirations of members of cultural and political minority communities. And it sure as hell won’t be at the cost of your ability to easily find Ottawa’s gay and lesbian newspaper.