3 min

The BIA’s bungle

Sometimes you just have to shake your head.
This was my reaction Oct 9 after Avery Pitcher, co-chair of the Church Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area,posted a letter to that group’s website imploring Xtra to report more nice things about the BIA.
I can’t decide what’s more regrettable about this: Pitcher’s woefully inadequate understanding of how media works or the fact that she’s dead wrong when she says Xtra has reported only negative stories about the BIA.
She calls on Xtra to present a more “accurate reflection of the work” the BIA is engaged in. A quick Google search will surely turn up possible PR reps she might employ — Xtra is not one of them. Just as reporters and editors at Toronto dailies report only what’s most noteworthy at city hall, Queen’s Park or the courts, so we choose what we believe is relevant to our readers. There are only so many people interested in street power-cleaning — one of the issues Pitcher lamented we did not cover after the BIA’s Sept 24 meeting (full disclosure: we did indeed report on the BIA’s power cleaning of the street in a story on July 5, 2012).
Which leads me to the next forehead slap. While Xtra is under no obligation to report on anything the gay village’s BIA does — laudatory or critical — anyone who spends even five minutes on our website will see we do, frequently, report on the activities of this group. The BIA’s manager, David Wootton, has a more sophisticated view of how media works and — unlike the group’s co-chairs — is always available to, and forthcoming with, our reporters. Whether it’s Halloween, the AIDS Walk, benches, beautification, new businesses, postering, Alexander Wood, meet-and-greets, Pride or crime, in the 14 months I’ve been at Xtra there are few groups we’ve mentioned more than the Church Wellesley Village BIA.
Pitcher is right that sometimes this reporting is critical. Again, that’s how media functions, and that’s how some people feel about much of the BIA’s recent work. The BIA representatives have a pair of oft-repeated gripes that don’t sit well with many in the community. First, their quest to “beautify” the gay village seems to begin from the premise that what we now have is not beautiful or acceptable. While no one will disagree that Church Street can be improved, we have — and will continue to have — differing opinions about the best way to do this. Pitcher wants to “clean up” Church Street. To many this is code for tearing down sexy gay imagery and sanitizing (read: making child-friendly) the Village. Swirly rainbows: good; tits and ass: bad. Somehow corporate advertising, however, is just hunky dory.
Let’s face it, Church Street is not a daytime or weekend shopping destination, nor is it (sadly, for those of us who live in the Village) a foodie’s delight. It’s a destination for the city’s gays to come drink, dance, have sex, buy dildos and strut their stuff. As it should be. Sure, more condos means the ’hood has become more straight, but that does not mean it’s the new St Lawrence Market. In Greetings from the Gayborhood, Donald F Reuter’s book about American gay villages, he writes that the best gay communities “are where we come to celebrate, be thoughtful, and seek refuge from a society largely uninterested in satisfying our ‘special interests.’” The use of gay imagery — including sexual signage and postering — and the “adult nature” of gay villages is essential, he writes.
The second problem is the BIA’s constant worry that it can do nothing because it has few funds. This illustrates a lack of imagination. Montreal recently injected more life into its gay village by getting creative and building partnerships. Why doesn’t the BIA collaborate with OCAD and display some free public art on the strip? That would be beautiful.
The most fun I ever had on Church Street was Aug 14, 2003, after the citywide blackout. Gays flocked to the ’hood with a generator and created an amazing impromptu street party in the dark. It was free. Well, except maybe for the post-party power street-cleaning.

On that note, I encourage you all to get out to Church Street on Oct 31. The BIA throws a kick-ass Halloween party. I wish you all a sexy trick and a tasty treat.