Xtra’s first issue in January bore a profile of incoming Pride Toronto executive director Tracey Sandilands. The story was a utility puff piece, conceived to introduce a new and unknown executive director to Toronto’s gay people. The face-to-face interview from which the piece was built was taped, but Sandilands wrote on Xtra.ca in the days following publication that she had been misquoted.
The recording didn’t lie, Sandilands did, so we reported that too. Every time I thought the story had finally run its course, Pride or Sandilands would do or say something that simply couldn’t be ignored. The story carried on through most of the first half of 2009.
In some ways that initial innocuous Sandilands profile and the perception, perpetuated so vocally by Pride Toronto, that Xtra editors harbour personal vendettas against Sandilands and Pride still persists. I got more questions about our coverage of Pride in 2009 than I did about any other issue. I love to answer them. The record speaks for itself and people need to know what’s really going on there.
As 2009 progressed it became increasingly clear to me that censorship was flowing across the country. Xtra hasn’t had much trouble with censors in the last couple of years, but in January a cover image was booted from Xtra’s Facebook account. It was only the beginning. By December we’d had our Youtube accounts temporarily suspended twice, Canada Border Services Agency disrupted the Ottawa installment of the Inside Out film festival, and, in preparation for the Winter Olympics, free expression of dissent in Vancouver is under siege. With a G-20 summit scheduled for Toronto in 2010, we should expect things to get worse before they get better.
There were some tough tragedies in 2009 too. Chief among them is the October murder of Chris Skinner. Skinner was well loved and the horror that someone chose to kill him so brutally is eclipsed only by the horror that, as I write this, his killer remains unidentified and at large.
In June James Hearst lay dying in the hallway of 40 Alexander St for almost 40 minutes as paramedics, having already been called to help, sat idle nearby. Ultimately it seems that the system is unlikely to change as a consequence and that nobody will bear real responsibility for what happened, and didn’t happen, that night.
Then there’s David Dewees. He chose to throw himself under the wheels of a subway train, also in October. Evidence suggests that he exercised some horrible judgment as a teacher and camp counsellor, but in the subsequent media storm he was irrationally portrayed as a monster that he simply wasn’t. As the story unfolded, I thought often of villagers with torches.
These are not stories that make you feel good as a reader or an editor. But they are real, important and need, more than ever, to be told.
There were also some amazing bright spots in 2009.
The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives moved into its new location near Church St. It’s a permanent home to the too-often unrecorded history of gay and lesbian people in Canada. The culmination of almost 40 years work, the archives is an amazing resource that now symbolizes an eternal life for our communities.
The 519 Church St Community Centre completed a huge renovation project that helped transform the atmosphere of the place from that of a tired old social service outlet to something much more like the real community centre it ought to be.
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre expertly navigated a cash crunch, taking steps to ensure that it will continue to be a Toronto institution from which queer culture spreads all over the world.
Pride Toronto secured World Pride in 2014. It really is a great opportunity for Toronto’s gay and lesbian people, but it’s up to everyone to invest their efforts and minds into it. Let’s be sure it’s something of which we can all be proud.
Many thanks to you, Xtra’s readers, for all your comments, news tips and input in 2009. The publication is nothing without you. We’ve got some great surprises planned for 2010 — the year promises to be anything but boring.
Matt Mills is editorial director of Pink Triangle Press.