Something I’ve noticed in the 45-odd years (some of them odder than others) since I first contributed a gay news column to the Georgia Straight is that change happens.
Through the decades, many publications have chronicled our challenges and achievements. Each has served its purpose in its own time and then given way to the next voice of community. In the mid-1960s, the Association for Sexual Knowledge (ASK) was mailing its newsletter to nearly 100 subscribers, and in their first issue they wrote, “Some say that we do not live in the Dark Ages . . . but what of the homosexual who is dismissed from his job . . . simply because it is rumoured that he or she is homosexual? Could you afford, right now, to go to your employer and safely say, ‘I am a homosexual’? ASK hopes that in not too many years the sexual variant will be able to do so without fear or recrimination or repercussion.”
It was a brave mission statement, and since homosexuality was still illegal at the time, how encouraging it must have been that almost 100 Vancouver homosexuals were willing to have their names and addresses appear on the subscription list of such a subversive publication!
I took up the task of sharing our stories with a wider readership in the 1970s in the Georgia Straight, with QQ Writes . . . Page 69. Community papers such as Open Doors, Coming Out, The Gay Canadian and the somewhat more unabashed Your Thing and Thrust came and went throughout the decade, followed by The Northwest Fountain in the 1980s. And then came Angles, publishing from 1983 to 1998, finally giving way to the slicker production values and more nuanced editorial stands of Xtra West.
Regrets, I’ll have a few. I will miss the eye-grabbing front pages, and there is something about the look and feel of newsprint that loses something in the translation to cyberspace, at least for an old print guy like me. And I’ll be sorry to lose that small group of older readers who continue to resist the lure of the internet. Without even a passing acquaintance with Google or Facebook or even email, they will no longer enjoy these fortnightly stories of our shared misspent youths. I’m talking about you, James, and Jamie, and John and Mrs G! It’s time to take a seniors’ computer course at Barclay Manor!
I think that something else we lose with Xtra’s final print run is a citywide visibility that was hard-earned and will be difficult to replace in other ways. The presence of Xtra’s distribution boxes on downtown streets and the piles of copies displayed alongside other community publications in every library, coffee shop and community centre throughout the region have had an impact we can never really calculate. This day-to-day presence was a reminder to ourselves and our allies of the gains we had made and the place in public spaces that we had claimed for ourselves. A subliminal comfort and encouragement to us and an in-your-face reminder to those who still would deny us our seat at the table that we were out and never going back into the closet. Are we, in effect, retreating to a cyber-closet of our own making?
I will leave it to a new generation of gay, lesbian and other voices to come up with ways to keep us in the public eye. As they come up with the answers, I’ll do my best to keep up with the technology. Only last week I had a chat with a journalist pal, a full 10 years my junior, who did her best to bring me up to speed on the phenomena of podcasting and convince me that this was a tool I should explore.
Because they are kind to animals and the elderly, the management of Xtra has decided to take me along on this segue from ink to pixels. There are still many stories to be told about our early days, when we greeted the dawn from the booths of the Granville Street White Lunch. You haven’t heard the last of Mrs G’s stories, and we haven’t even started on the Jamie Stevens legend, Jake Thomas’s and others’ memories of the earliest experiments with “gay theatre” or the pre-Bovines Ephemerals and others who paved the glitter-strewn way for our Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
There are time-lines to unravel, personalities to celebrate and old gossip to rehash. I’ll see you on the interwebs!