4 min’s most-read stories of the year

What stories had readers talking?

Credit: N Maxwell Lander

1) Gay-straight alliances in Catholic schools

Without a doubt, the biggest story of the year was Andrea Houston’s ongoing coverage of the lack of gay-straight alliances in Ontario’s publicly funded Catholic schools. It started with Houston learning that the Halton Catholic District School Board had quietly passed a blanket ban on GSAs. When Houston contacted board chair Alice Anne LeMay for comment, LeMay bluntly responded, “We don’t have Nazi groups, either.” The story made headlines around the world and broke all records for’s readership.

When Xtra broke the story of the Halton GSA ban, politicians and the national gay and lesbian rights group Egale maintained that the ban was isolated and that other Catholic schools had allowed GSAs. Untrue. In a further investigation, Xtra uncovered that Catholic school boards do not allow GSAs or any group that includes the words “gay” or “lesbian” in their names because Ontario’s bishops won’t allow them.

Just when we thought that the GSA ban couldn’t get any crazier, Houston broke the story that St Joseph Catholic Secondary School had banned the display of rainbows at a fundraising event planned by a group of students who had formed an unofficial GSA. The kids got around the ban by baking rainbow-coloured cupcakes.
The school then got even more spiteful, insisting that the students couldn’t donate the money they’d raised to the LGBT Youth Line as they’d planned; instead, they had to donate to a Catholic charity. This story made national headlines, and various national columnists’ suggestions that readers donate to Youth Line to protest St Joseph’s decision led to a small reported spike in donations.
Sixteen-year-old Leanne Iskander emerged as the hero of the GSA fight, and her struggle against her school’s administration fuelled much of our coverage over 2011. This must have frustrated her principal, Jeff Quenneville, who threatened her if she continued her advocacy work. Iskander is not backing down.

Ivan Coyote, Dear Lady in the Women’s Washroom
Ivan Coyote has been writing in Xtra for years, but this year her columns really developed an amazing online following. This story about the hysteria she faced when she tried to use a women’s washroom became the third-most-read article on this year, and her monthly column, Loose End,was a consistently popular feature of our website.
3) Open secret: Conservative Cabinet minister John Baird outed
This story from February 2010 remains one of the most frequently accessed stories on Blame Google, the May federal election and the foreign affairs minister’s propensity for golden showers.
4) Trans canadidate makes Canadian history in Ontario
When Christin Milloy announced her candidacy for the Libertarian party in the Ontario provincial election in Mississauga-Brampton South, she made history as the first trans person to be on a ballot in a federal or provincial election in Canada. She confused some readers with her suggestion that the Ontario Health Insurance Plan should fully fund more of the costs of sex reassignment surgery while also calling for the provincial health insurance plan to be dismantled.
5) The war over Pride Toronto
Our year-long coverage of the turmoil at Pride Toronto began with the surprise announcement that embattled executive director Tracey Sandilands was resigning from her post, followed with months of speculation that Mayor Ford and his ally Giorgio Mammoliti were going to defund the festival over the inclusion of the controversial group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, and ended with Kevin Beaulieu being named as the new executive director in October. Readers watched new developments closely, as the Jewish Defense League announced plans to picket the Pride offices, Mammoliti skulked around the Dyke March with a video camera, and rightwing councillors eventually dropped plans to kill the parade’s funding.
6) A homophobic and transphobic Ontario election campaign
Late in September, the rightwing Institute for Canadian Values launched an ad campaign that misleadingly suggested that the Ontario education curriculum was telling girls to question whether they were girls or boys. While the National Post pulled the ad and ran an apology, the Sun refused to apologize and eventually ran a televised version of the ad for three weeks on SunTV, prompting queer activists to launch a boycott campaign, which SunTV host Brian Lilley criticized on air in a spectacularly clueless rant.
Making matters worse, several PC candidates in the Ontario election distributed copies of the ad and a flyer that added grossly misleading suggestions that the Toronto School Board required students to set up same-sex kissing booths and crossdress. Tim Hudak refused to apologize, even when the TDSB chair filed an official complaint against the party.
7) The photography of Steve Walls
This report about a controversial exhibit at Montreal’s Galerie Espace drew furious debate in our comments section about the propriety of Walls’ photographs, including one that depicted a nude, tattooed model posing as Jesus Christ on the cross with an erection.
8) Remembering Jamie Hubley
The suicide of gay Ottawa teenager Jamie Hubley touched many of our readers and writers very deeply. Hubley was bullied in his high school and blogged profusely about his pain and depression. In the wake of his death and funeral, the Conservative Party finally created an It Gets Better video, which, while we appreciated the sentiment, we found somewhat disappointing.
9) The 1981 bathhouse riots
Our commemorative coverage of the 1981 bathhouse riots, looking back on 30 years of the modern Canadian gay rights movement, was a huge hit with readers.
10) TIE: Queer couple kicked out of Tim Hortons
Riley Murphy and her girlfriend, Patricia Pattenden, were shocked and offended when the manager of a Blenheim, Ontario, Tim Hortons told them the coffee shop is “family-friendly” and threatened to call police over their public displays of affection, which included Murphy putting her arm around Pattenden and giving her a peck on the cheek. A local pastor alleged that the couple were “basically having sex.” A subsequent kiss-in outside the store saw about 30 people protest Tim Hortons’ actions.
10) TIE: Facebook comment sparks trans boycott of Xtra
This late entry to our list just squeaked in before the deadline. It began when Xtra reporter Andrea Houston wrote a feature article about the dangers of sex work, in which she interviewed trans sex worker Lexi Tronic. Assignment editor Danny Glenwright posted a link to the story on his personal Facebook page in which he mentioned Tronic’s birth first name, as they have a history together and he wanted to point out the story to their mutual childhood friends.
Tronic and several of her friends were outraged and launched a boycott of the paper, saying the decision to reference Tronic’s first name was transphobic.

Danny removed the Facebook post and then wrote on’s blog about the controversy. That post has become the most-read blog entry on all year, with more than 130 reader comments as of press time.

Xtra published a story on the whole matter, in which we pointed out that Tronic had given Xtra the right to publish her birth name in a previous story and we noted that trans people have been upset with Xtra before.