Xtra turns 36 this year. We’re still young, but not that young; not quite middle-aged, but older than many of our current staff. It’s a milestone that calls for reflection—and reckoning.
Launched in Toronto in 1984 as a supplement to our long-defunct predecessor The Body Politic, we began our life as a free, fun events guide you could grab in a bar or coffee shop. Not that those were particularly free or fun years. AIDS was beginning its campaign of devastation, and there were few policies or laws protecting the rights of LGBTQ2 people—in Canada, sexual orientation would not be added to the federal Human Rights Act until 1996 and gender identity not until 2017. Here and elsewhere in the world, it was a period of both increasing visibility and activism, as well as virulent backlash by conservative forces.
Since that first issue, a lot has changed in our communities and with Xtra itself. Our cultures and communities have grown more prominent, our rights have been increasingly secured, and Xtra’s coverage, which in the early years was largely focused on white, cis, gay men, became more inclusive and representative of our communities. We evolved from a local Toronto paper to a national media group with editions in Vancouver and Ottawa, and, in 2015, we became a digital-only news magazine.
Now we are in the process of re-imagining ourselves once again. Over the last two decades, there have been seismic changes in media at large and LGBTQ2 media specifically—from the digital revolution to the mainstreaming of queer and trans issues. So, how can we remain relevant and essential to our communities? What are the new possibilities for storytelling? What should an LGBTQ2 publication look like in the 21st century?
To us, Xtra means connection: A deep connection to our communities and a commitment to fostering connections among our increasingly diverse audiences in Canada and beyond. A new editorial strategy, adopted at the end of 2018, is underway, shifting Xtra’s focus from hyper-local news coverage to longform features, opinion, analysis, essays and explainers—all with a more global audience in mind.
We are increasing our health content—particularly in the areas of trans health and queer women’s health—as well as our political and pop culture coverage. We’re also extending our storytelling formats to include audio documentaries and podcasting, and expanding our already stellar roster of contributors and partners.
You may have already noticed some changes. Our team tackled ambitious projects last year. Associate editor Arvin Joaquin revamped our newsletter, making Xtra Weekly an entertaining and engaging catch-up on LGBTQ2 news and culture every Friday. Senior editor Erica Lenti led our Canadian election coverage with a comprehensive look at queer and trans issues in Canadian politics. On the health beat, senior editor Eternity Martis produced a fantastic month-long series on menstruation and, more recently, did a deep dive (pun intended!) into the history of dental dams. As always, our designer Francesca Roh made sure we looked great.
Meanwhile, the video team—managing producer Michelle Turingan, producer Corey Misquita and producer and story editor Riley Sparks—launched the Inspired series, celebrating up-and-coming queer and trans artists and creators, while also travelling cross-country shooting an upcoming documentary about Pride celebrations in small towns. We launched “Off the Chart,” a podcast about the original The L Word TV series and its Generation Q reboot.
Community manager and social media editor Michelle da Silva has brought new energy, humour and style to our social media accounts, enabling Xtra to better connect to our communities and highlight our terrific work. (Seriously, you should follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.) Gordon Bowness recently joined the team as executive editor, bringing a wealth of experience in LGBTQ2 media, including 13 years as Xtra’s arts and entertainment editor.
We’ve also added a number of brilliant regular contributors to our line-up. Herstorian Kevin O’Keeffe is our regular Drag Race chronicler. Author Kai Cheng Thom pens the must-read column “Ask Kai: Advice for the Apocalypse.” Award-winning journalist Tre’vell Anderson, formerly of Out Magazine and the Los Angeles Times, covers the film and television industry from L.A. And Montreal comedians and podcasters Tranna Wintour and Thomas Leblanc share their pop culture fixations in their biweekly “Obsessions” column.
We have so many more exciting projects in the works that we can’t wait to share with you. And while we continue our transformation, we’ll be using the “Inside Xtra” series to include you in the conversation. We’ll be regularly updating you about our changes and new initiatives, and offering a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of our newsroom.
More than anything, we want to hear from you. Let us know how we’re doing and tell us about the issues that matter to you by reaching out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are so grateful for our community’s support these past 36 years. Trust us: We plan to get even better, smarter and hotter with age.
Rachel Giese is the editorial director of Xtra.