3 min

Community building, with teeth and nails

Some pretty wicked things happened in Ottawa this past year.

The Dyke March committee put together one of the best-organized marches to date, rain be damned. Mr Leather Ottawa had one of its feistiest weekends ever, with numbers that hadn’t been seen in years. Philana Dollin unleashed the Sexual Overtones on Ottawa. The Ten Oaks Project began a leadership camp for teens and 20-somethings. The Village Committee started mounting rainbow flags on the storefronts of Bank St businesses.

We came together to fight the criminalization of HIV, to end the harassment of sex workers, to fight cuts to arts funding — work that still continues.

Much of it was done under the banner of community building, which is a strange beast. It may sound warm and fuzzy, but it has nails and teeth. Or at least it ought to.

Sometimes it’s about tea and conversation. Sometimes it’s about throwing rocks.

Queer people often talk about community. What we mean — at least what I hope we mean — isn’t that we want togetherness at all costs. Not that we don’t want a community that strives together, that stands shoulder to shoulder. We do.

We want a community that helps.

But community building is also about ethics, about remaking the world into a place where we’d like to live. It requires a strong heart, a level head and a willingness to roll up our sleeves.

Surely we don’t want to build just any community. We want to build a community based on respect and understanding, not racism and misogyny. We want to build a community that honours our sexual desires, not one that judges or neuters us. We want a community that celebrates gender diversity, fluidity and resistance, not one that locks us into social expectations.

We want a community that strives toward sexual freedom, equality, libertarian rights and social justice.

At least, I do. We don’t all have to agree, thank god.

There is room to be critical, but criticism must come with participation. Community building isn’t about standing on the sidelines. It’s not for complainers or whiners. The people we recognized at the Heroes Awards on Feb 12 know this — that changing the city is something we do with our own hands, not by kvetching.

And look at the work they do. They organize events. They apply pressure to governments. They attend tedious, sometimes interminable meetings. These are the folks that paint the signs at protests, wash the dishes after parties, collect money and ticket stubs and signatures on petitions.

It can be very tiring, but there are rewards. I often think of a part of Xtra’s mission statement:

“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.”

Our work changes us. I know it changes me.

Finally, I want to give a shout-out to my age bracket. I’m grateful for the fact that, at 26, this community doesn’t blush at my youth.

There are many folks in my cohort in positions of leadership here in Ottawa — Alan Chaffe of Pride, James Bromilow of the police liaison committee, Jeremy Dias of Jer’s Vision, Claudia Van Den Heuvel of Pink Triangle Services, Jayda Kelsall of Venus Envy, Caitlyn Pascal of Divergence, Faye Estrella, Mike Wiseman and others, including my partner, Mark, who chairs the Ten Oaks Project board.

To the three people nominated for Youth Activist of the Year, I want you to know this isn’t a junior prize. In fact, you’ve been chosen out of a rather crowded field.

To them, and all our Heroes nominees, I tip my hat. Thank you.

Editor’s note

Rumours of the death of Capital Xtra have been greatly exaggerated.

In the last issue of Capital Xtra, we announced that the newspaper will be moving to a virtual office in Ottawa, hiring a full-time reporter (the first such position at Capital Xtra since 2007), redoubling our efforts online and moving administrative tasks to the company’s head office in Toronto.

We were, apparently, unclear about what that will mean. The newspaper will continue to publish as usual on a monthly basis. Great care will be taken to be sure we still focus on the things our readers have come to expect, especially local news reporting, thought-provoking features and analysis.

For those who are still in doubt, the proof will be in the pudding. Watch for a re-designed, sleeker, more reader-friendly version of the paper in March. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the present issue.