Opinion
2 min

Memoirs of an Art Fag

This ’90s scenester column tackled both politics and culture

Thanks to his column, Art Fag, Andrew Griffin enjoyed the best of Ottawa’s dance, art, theatre and music scenes for eight years. Credit: Shawn Scallen

Intense and exciting may not be words that spring to most people’s minds when they think of Ottawa, but they are definitely the words I would use to describe my years with Capital Xtra.

By the time Capital Xtra came into being in the fall of 1993, Ottawa was in its third wave of gay and lesbian community activism, and, as one of the original columnists for the paper, I had the pleasure and the privilege of meeting and interviewing people from every part of the community and every stage of its development.

I talked to pioneers like Charlie Hill, who helped found the first gay group at the University of Toronto in 1969 and joined the newly formed Gays of Ottawa when he moved here in 1972.

In 1993, there still were no effective treatments for HIV/AIDS, and Ottawa’s gay and lesbian community was among the first to organize and respond to the crisis. Barry Deeprose was one of the co-founders of the AIDS Committee of Ottawa (ACO) in 1985, and we regularly consulted with him on the issues of HIV, AIDS and men’s health.

Through my work with the paper I also had the extraordinary luck to become friends with Bob Read. He was a founding member of both Pink Triangle Services (PTS) and ACO. The first executive director of ACO, David Hoe, flat out stated that there were people alive today who wouldn’t be if it were not for Bob Read’s dedication. His death in November 2000 was a great loss to Ottawa and another sad milestone in the epidemic’s march.

In addition to covering news and community affairs, for eight years I wrote the column Art Fag. Not only did I get to enjoy just about every piece of art, dance, theatre and music produced by the queer community for almost a decade, I also interviewed creators as diverse as photographer Evergon, theatre director Robert Lepage and drag legend Peaches Latour.

Under the guidance of founding editor/publisher Brandon Matheson, Capital Xtra also kept a close eye on the queer communities’ many enemies.

Unfortunately, many of the homophobes in the Reform Party that Capital Xtra was tracking then eventually ended up in the cabinet of the current Conservative government (including everyone’s favourite 40-year-old virgin, Jason Kenney).

The early ’90s saw an upsurge in racist, anti-gay skinhead activity, culminating in a riot on Parliament Hill on May 29, 1993. The newly formed Ottawa police bias crime unit would pursue gaybashing charges against members of the group. Another Capital Xtra contributor, David Pepper, would eventually join the Ottawa police department as a community liaison officer, a very innovative move for its time.

This blend of journalism, community involvement and activism was and is the trademark of Capital Xtra and its sister publications under Pink Triangle Press.

It is also what made my eight years at the paper so memorable — up until I decided to leave in 2001 to go China to learn Chinese. (Mary, don’t ask!)

More on Xtra Ottawa's 20th anniversary:

20 years of shining the light: Practising community journalism is vital, but it's a difficult task

Our spaces, September 1993 — a look back at where Ottawa's gay community gathered 20 years ago

Thinking back to Frontlash — Irshad Manji's column sparked discussion and ruffled the status quo

Will & Grace versus La Petite Mort — Comparing 20 years of queer representation in Ottawa and in pop culture

Whither Ottawa's gay community — the early gay movement's shared aim is disappearing

Headlines from 10 years ago

Headlines from 20 years ago — some of the stories from our first issue