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7 min

Xtra’s newsmakers of 2012

The people and moments that shaped our year

Patrick and Brian Burke launched their You Can Play campaign in March. Credit: You Can Play

You Can Play

“If you can shoot, you can shoot.”

“If you can score, you can score.”

“If you can play, you can play.”

Nine months after Brian and Patrick Burke launched their simple slogan, athletes across North America are still signing on to welcome gay players.

With their focus on inspiring allies, rather than shaming homophobes, the Burkes may have found the perfect way to reach behind locker-room lines to change an influential, macho culture from within.

Doesn’t hurt that the nudge to rethink and reach out comes from one of the toughest, most well-respected general managers in the National Hockey League.

Brian’s standing, his son Patrick’s Twitter-encouragement to keep the discussion flowing, and his son Brendan’s courage to come out before a car accident claimed his life, have anchored the campaign in a family tribute that’s hard to dispute.

“Before my brother Brendan passed away in 2010,” Patrick says in You Can Play’s debut video, “he was the first person to fight for the rights of gay athletes in professional hockey. Since his accident, our family has fought hard to carry on his legacy and ensure that LGBT athletes around the world are afforded equal opportunity, judged only by their talent, character and work ethic in their sport.”

“Over the years,” Patrick tells Xtra, “straight athletes have been conditioned to think they should not support gay rights. We need to give them a means to support gay players.”

Since its launch, several Canucks have joined the campaign locally, including Ryan Kesler, Henrik Sedin and Manny Malhotra, who made history as the first Canuck to walk in the Vancouver Pride parade this year.

This month, the entire Toronto Marlies hockey team voluntarily signed a You Can Play pledge to welcome gay players, then invited their fans to join them (which they did).

“If you can cheer, you can cheer,” they said.

We’re cheering.

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Obama comes out

“I’ve just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to affirm same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Barack Obama said May 9, becoming the first sitting American president to support gay marriage.

For those who wondered whether Obama’s personal evolution would make him a one-term White House resident, this fall’s election not only ushered him back to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, but proved to be a queer political windfall.

On Nov 6, Maine, Maryland and Washington State voters said yes to gay marriage; Minnesotans said no to an amendment defining marriage as being solely between a man and a woman, bucking a trend of defeat whenever the issue was put to the popular vote.

Bonus: A record number of out candidates are on their way to Congress, among them Tammy Baldwin, who becomes the first openly gay American senator.

Double bonus: more than 110 queer candidates prevailed in their state and local electoral bids.

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Russia’s gay gag

You’d think a headline like “Pride marches banned for 100 years” is something the satire mavens at The Onion conjured.

Nyet.

It’s a legal reality after a Moscow court upheld a city council ban on Pride events — until May 2112 at least.

Wily gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev bombarded city authorities with 102 Pride applications, triggering the rejection. Next stop: European Court of Human Rights, “to show the absurdity of the system,” he says.

Elsewhere in Russia, nine regions, including St Petersburg, have now passed anti-gay gag laws prohibiting the “promotion of homosexuality” among minors.

Seven more regions are reportedly planning to follow suit. Debate on a federal bill to expand the ban nationwide was scheduled for Dec 19 in the State Duma but has been postponed to Jan 22.

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Jenna trumps the Donald

“I almost think it was an act out of my vanity to join a pageant, and it ended up helping so much,” Miss Universe Canada contestant Jenna Talackova told Xtra in July after she was named a Vancouver Pride parade grand marshal.

Four months prior, Talackova made international headlines when she challenged the Donald Trump–owned franchise for pulling her from competition for not being “naturally born female.” Talackova fought her disqualification and was eventually reinstated after the pageant conceded that she met Canada’s “legal gender recognition requirements.”

“Even though I wasn’t an advocate before, I’m so honoured to even have that kind of name now, and definitely I want to bring more awareness to this,” the trans Vancouverite says. “I’m very open about my past and what I had to go through to be who I am. That’s just me telling my story.”

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Pride turbulence

Vancouver Pride got off to a bumpy start in 2012.

January board elections sparked concerns about voting irregularities and the organization’s leadership.

Days after the election, former vice-president Shawn Ewing resigned.

Weeks later another director, Trevor Ashcroft, resigned, leaving only four directors on a board suddenly plunged into limbo, unable to conduct business because of a lack of quorum.

Then came a requisition, signed by 39 Vancouver Pride Society members, calling for a new election.

In the end, a special general meeting was held in March where a majority of the roughly 100 members in attendance voted to nullify January’s election results, oust president Ken Coolen and appoint an interim slate of directors to govern the organization.

Upside: By several accounts, this year’s Pride parade was a sunny if, at times, gap-plagued success.

Downside: End-of-year figures show the society predicting a $76,885 deficit, attributed to a decrease in overall revenue and an increase in event and staff costs.

Number of school districts out of 60 that have now passed anti-homophobia policies in BC. Five more districts decided to protect their queer students this year: Gold Trail, West Vancouver, Sunshine Coast, Saanich and Quesnel.

One-third down, two thirds to go.

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In Memoriam: David Holtzman, 1959–2012

Two weeks after testifying against the brothers accused of gaybashing him and his partner in 2010, community leader David Holtzman died suddenly of a heart attack on April 9.

The outpouring of love and grief are testament to Holtzman’s exceptionally genuine, compassionate and playful presence; he consciously created community wherever he went.

“I will think of him and remember to smile bigger, live brighter, be braver and give more, as he always did,” one of his many friends posted on his Facebook wall.

The judge is expected to rule in the Bassi brothers’ trial on Jan 14, 2013.