DailyXtra: Winter 2014 update edition

It’s been a while since I posted one of these – I cut back slightly on my work with Xtra in the Winter as I took up a couple of other writing and acting projects.

I just filed a story about storefronts on Church St finally starting to spring back into life, in which I also finally found real numbers on what commercial rent has become in the neighbourhood. Although businesses have been complaining for years about rent hikes, no one wants to give numbers on the record, and for some reason, realtors haven’t been keen to share them either. Still, it looks like CBRE has convinced a major bank to fork over $427,000/year for the combined former 7-24 Video and Priape spaces, which is, wow. Of course, now that that rate is public, I suppose we can expect other landlords to start demanding similar rates for their tenants, so if I’ve just caused the deaths of the last few remaining independent businesses on Church St, well, oops.

I actually can't wait to try North of Brooklyn Pizza.

I actually can’t wait to try North of Brooklyn Pizza.

The story seems to have touched a nerve on Facebook, where the usual sorts of complaints circulated – of the “Wah, I wish the bookstore I never shopped at came back” variety. As I’ve said before, I personally don’t care a whit about the indie retailers and pubs on Church, and it’s evident from the people voting with their feet and wallets, that the community doesn’t either. With all the new residents in the neighbourhood, the strip should be a license to print money for a smart business person. If I had a vision for the strip, I’d want more social places – cafes, bars, even dance clubs. But then, I’m not an investor.

Speaking of 7-24, I wrote about its relocation up the street to the space formerly occupied by The Manor Hair Lounge and Day Spa. Now that we know the scale of the rent being demanded of them by their new landlord, no wonder they moved. But quite frankly, this is another business that’s going the way of the dinosaur. Lots of people posted that the video store is an important part of the community – and at least for now, it offers a selection of terrible direct-to-video gay movies that Netflix doesn’t match – but if Blockbuster can’t make this business viable, I have real trouble believing that these folks will still be around in a few years.

On video, I interviewed Human Rights Watch’s LGBT director Graeme Reid on a wide swath of topics, but in the video that’s online, we talk mostly about LGBT issues in Ukraine and Russia in the wake of the ongoing crisis there. I think this is only part one of a couple videos that will be posted eventually, in which we talk about LGBT issues in several other regions.

I also hosted a short video segment on Xtra’s 30th Anniversary, in which I chatted with some of the people behind Xtra’s evolution.

The AIDS Committee of Toronto has appointed its new executive director – and he’s talking a lot of sense about the need to rationalize AIDS service organizations in the city and perhaps refocus ACT to serve gay men’s broader health needs.

Speaking of social services, NDP deputy leader Megan Leslie was in Toronto pledging her party’s support for an LGBT youth shelter, within the framework of their national housing strategy. I’m kind of ambivalent on this whole venture. This is a policy area that is explicitly under provincial jurisdiction, and I’m not sure there’s any good to come from setting up a national bureaucracy around it. Moreover, I’m dubious on the merits of social housing versus, for example, rent subsidies for those who need it, which I think will deliver greater benefits at lower cost, without the stigma (and management woes) of social housing projects. I’m also not certain that the homeless problem in Canada is similar coast-to-coast, or directly related to the social housing phenomenon (ie. Someone living on the streets due to mental illness or addiction may not find living security in a social housing complex). On the other hand, there’s clearly a homelessness problem in Canada, there’s clearly an LGBT element to it, and I’m glad that at least someone is talking about it instead of the ongoing, meaningless droning on about the middle class from all parties (including the NDP).

In February, I ended up filing  several  stories about the horror trans UK comedian Avery Edison experienced when she tried to enter Canada after overstaying her last visa. I caught this on Facebook because I know Edison through her comedy, and absolutely did not expect this to catch the mainstream attention the way it did.

I caught up with a gay Mississauga Catholic school student who’s suing his board over claims of systemic discrimination against queer students. As a former Catholic school student myself, I find a lot of this stuff frankly bizarre. Are Catholic schools suddenly a lot more reactionary these days? Was Chaminade College School a rare bastion of tolerance among Catholic schools in suburban Toronto? (HA!) While I can’t remember anyone at my high school leading a Gay-Straight Alliance, and there were teachers who were noticeably more uncomfortable about gay issues than others, the lengths these supposed adults in these Catholic schools are going to demean gay students are bizarre and petty, and quite frankly, do much greater harm to the Catholic school system overall. Yes, before I was out, a vice-principal scolded me for making fun of a gay student once. I organized a group to walk in the AIDSwalk (that was my first association with ACT!) and put up posters that featured two men kissing in my school and no one batted an eye. I guess not all schools, administrators, and teachers are created equal.

[As an aside, I haven’t read the novel Poison that the student claims was discriminatory because it presents a gay protagonist in a bad light. But on the other hand: a Catholic school is presenting a book with a gay main character at all. The description given of the character actually sounds sympathetic, and certainly in an essay, a student could make an argument about its portrayal of gay characters. For example, in Grade 12 English, my class had to read Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business which also has gay and lesbian characters presented in less-than-stellar lights. I actually wrote my grade 12 final essay about the portrayal of queer characters in it and received the top mark in the class.]

Finally, my travel article profiling my trip down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to LA finally saw print as well. Good memories, that trip.

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