1 min

Fighting for our rights

Xtra was the paper of record for Queer Nation’s activities

David Walberg and his friend Bruno at a Queer Nation demo, circa 1990. Credit: Xtra file photo

To celebrate Xtra’s 30 years of publishing in Toronto, we’re running a series of memories and musings from community members, current staff, writers and former staff members.

The bloodstained sidewalk at Church and Maitland marked the spot of the vicious attack for days to come.

My friends and I were strolling up Church one night when we stumbled upon the source of the blood — freshly spilled from a gay man, beaten to a pulp and cocooned by a quickly assembled crowd.

The attackers were still on the scene. My friends and I leapt into action, blowing whistles as we pursued them. It was a time when so many gaybashings plagued the Village — then known as the Gay Ghetto — that many of us carried whistles. Others joined community patrols and roamed the streets at night.

I caught up with one of the alleged bashers and a minor scuffle ensued, resulting in each of us charging the other with assault. The first story I would write for Xtra was an account of the assault trial.

The charge I had laid was meant to be a placeholder for the real bashing. We postered the neighbourhood and ran announcements in Xtra, but the victim did not surface.

The whistles in question had been distributed by Queer Nation, a group formed locally by maybe a score of us, a group that quickly attracted hundreds to meetings and demonstrations, thanks in no small part to coverage in Xtra.

I had been with the paper only a number of months at the time, but Ken Popert graciously offered the use of Xtra’s production facilities, including its photocopier and paper supplies, for our efforts.

Xtra was the paper of record for Queer Nation’s activities, and not always uncritically, as the group became mired in political correctness and hierarchies of oppression. But Xtra was also a valuable resource for the group, playing the role of both backer and critic in a way that defines our particular brand of advocacy journalism.

I was acquitted of assault; my combatant received a sentence of community service. And to this day, I do not know the identity of the bloodied man on the Church Street sidewalk.