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The Toronto Star’s Church St exodus is a bizarre logical leap

One of The Toronto Star’s top local stories this morning bears the headline “Exodus sees Church St losing its gay village identity.”

In the piece Star reporter Denise Balkissoon latches onto the closure of Church St queer joints Zelda’s last month and Crews Tango in June as evidence that the neighbourhood is disappearing and gay and lesbian people are wandering away like economic refugees.

To support her hypothesis she quotes six productive, well-rounded queer people who say reasonably that they don’t spend all their time in gay bars in the Church Wellesley neighbourhood, that life is and ought to be bigger than that.

But Balkissoon and The Star leave their story equation conspicuously incomplete.

This year The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives celebrated the opening of its brand new home, a dedicated building in the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood. The 519 Church St Community Centre celebrated a fancy new addition. The Church St Fetish Fair, Halloweek and Toronto Pride celebrations drew record crowds. The International Gay and Lesbian Tourism Association held a huge trade show in Maple Leaf Gardens. Scores of gay and lesbian athletes represented Toronto at the World Outgames in Copenhagen.

Pride Toronto is gunning for World Pride in 2014 and stands a good chance of getting it. Woody’s celebrated its 20th anniversary. Xtra celebrated its 25th anniversary. Fab is celebrating its 15th anniversay. Pink Triangle Press, which publishes Xtra and fab, completed an office renovation and continued to grow its worldwide audience of gay and lesbian people.

Visit Church St any night of the week, especially on weekends, to see thousands of queer people from all walks of life enjoying themselves.

All the above, and whatever else I’ve inadvertently left out, is missing from Balkissoon’s story.

Gentrification is a real phenomenon, in no way peculiar to Toronto. It is more expensive to live here than it used to be. This is true of urban centres around the world and various neighbourhoods across Toronto. But change is inevitable. The Church Wellesley neighbourhood is and always has been in a state of flux. Businesses, people and institutions naturally come and go over time. It is the way of things everywhere.

But Balkissoon’s logical leap from an analysis of gentrification to the illusory decline of what remains a vibrant part of Toronto’s queer cultural fabric is a blind one at best. Perhaps the writer and editor in The Star story are simply projecting their own hopes.

Honestly, one resto-patio-drag bar moves a few blocks and The Star invokes “exodus,” a Bible reference, on a headline to a story that describes the end of a neighbourhood.

It must be a very slow news day.

Matt Mills is associate publisher and editorial director of Xtra and fab. Check out his analysis piece on gentrification, The new queer metropolis, here

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