Every election, we try to grill candidates on whether they support queer issues that are already top of mind. But this year, in an effort to lead the conversation, Xtra is tossing out new ideas to make our city better and our community stronger. We’re calling it the Swish List, and between now and the election, we’ll be publishing new ideas from our writers and members of the community.
Toronto’s LGBT community has a wonderful history of bold leaders and artists who’ve made huge contributions to the struggle for gay rights, to life in the city and to the arts. As a tribute to these leaders, we should name some significant landmarks after them.
Earlier this year, some members of the community were upset when Cawthra Square Park was renamed Barbara Hall Park, essentially by fiat of local Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. Those community members had hoped that the most important public space in the neighbourhood might be named after a prominent community member and not just a former politician, her support of the community notwithstanding.
Wong-Tam had promised wide consultation on the proposed name change but ultimately failed to find any groups who supported the proposal and rushed the name change through council anyway.
While it’s debatable whether Wong-Tam was right to do this, it would have been more difficult to override the community’s concerns if they’d been articulated in advance. So that’s why I propose we establish a list of people we’d like to honour in our public spaces.
We have George Hislop Park on the north end of the neighbourhood, honouring a gay rights pioneer who’s known for his successful fight for gay spousal benefits. Let’s complement that on the south end of the Village by renaming Alexander Street Parkette after Sky Gilbert, the controversial writer and performer who founded Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, the world’s longest-running queer theatre company, which just happens to be the park’s neighbour.
Yes, the short laneway next the park was recently named in his honour, but that laneway’s significance is not equal to the contribution Gilbert has made to Canadian queer culture.
Okay, the heritage buffs will be annoyed at the renaming, but let’s be clear: the park isn’t named for our founding sex offender, Alexander Wood — it’s named after Alexander Street. Not a terribly inspiring name.
There are other locations that could also be considered for renaming. The new park at 11 Wellesley St W, which should open in a few years, will need a name, and the park may become a significant queer hangout given its proximity to the neighbourhood. Church Street Public School could also be named after an appropriate queer hero.
Let’s float some names.