1 min

Tea lights and pride

Brian Francis says working at Xtra was like living in an all-gay dorm

Brian Francis worked at Xtra from 1995 to 1998. 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. 

I often compare my years working at Xtra to living in an all-gay dorm. There was loud music, lots of drama and dirty pictures posted in the bathrooms. There were a ton of good stories, too. From the erotic masseur who demanded we refund the cost of his classified ad after we accidentally typed that his services included “prostrate” massage to the unsuspecting wives who called to inquire about the Cruiseline charges on their phone bills.

You’d think Canada’s premier queer publication would go all out for Pride, but it was the opposite. I don’t know whether we were all so exhausted by the time the Pride issue came out or if Pride was something seen as work rather than play, but there were no big whoop-dee-dos at the office.

True, we did have an office party. We’d put tea lights in Mason jars and cover the tables with newspapers. Someone would put on a CD (likely Ani DiFranco). There might be a tray of cheese cubes or, at the very least, a bowl of Doritos.

When I look back at my years at Xtra, I’m proud that I was a part of something. It was an exciting time to be working at a queer newspaper. National advertisers were just beginning to come onboard. I remember Absolut commissioned us to do their advertising (I played wedding guest in the “Absolut Commitment” ad). It was rewarding to be part of something that was constantly in motion, to build a paper every two weeks only to tear it down and start all over.

Maybe this was the reason that our own Pride party wasn’t a big deal. All of us working there — from the editors to the sales reps to the receptionists — were focused on the bigger picture. Pride came around once a year, but it was in our post-Pride lives, after the parade and celebrations, after everyone went back to their usual routines, that Xtra forged ahead.