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.


Daily Xtra: November 2013

Despite taking a couple weeks off last month, I had a pretty busy month in my freelance gig at DailyXtra.com.

In bittersweet news, Toronto Police announced that they had finally arrested someone in the 4-year-old Chris Skinner murder. Shortly after I filed that report, I went on vacation, and Justin Ling filed the follow up when police announced they’d arrested another three connected to the murder.

Also on the police beat, the Ontario Chiefs of Police released a document of best practices in LGBT policing issues, which is being used as a training resource province-wide, and inspiring chiefs across the county and abroad to reflect on their own practices. It’s also, apparently, drawn the ire of the usual anti-gay groups.

On the arts news front, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre belatedly announced that they’d lost a Canadian Heritage grant for the annual Rhubarb Festival this year. While they’d known about the lost grant since the beginning of October, they waited until late November to go public. Apparently, they wanted to give Heritage ample time to respond to their questions, but this seems like a huge missed opportunity. This could have been a huge, Summerworks-2011-style story, but instead they waited until the holiday season, well after a local federal by-election, the closing week of a show, to make an announcement via social media, bypassing the traditional outlets.

If they really wanted to make a splash, they could have released it to media a week before Gay Heritage Project opened in the middle of the Toronto Centre byelection. That would have instantly gotten the Liberals and the NDP into a (probably very shrill and off-putting) shouting match about who loves Buddies in Bad Times more, which could have landed the story on the covers of newspapers and on TV panels nationwide. The issue would have had real legs and might have actually moved the government (Summerworks got its grant back the following year, after all), and drawn a bunch of attention to the theatre right as it was opening a fairly risky show that deserved attention. Instead, it seems Xtra and NOW are the only papers that even noticed, and although Peggy Nash asked a question about it in the Commons, Parliament has now closed up for six weeks for the holiday. *Sigh*

Meanwhile, the city of Toronto’s proposed 2014 budget reneges on committed funding increases for the arts in the 2014-16 budget years. Funding still goes up, but not by as much as was promised, and certainly not enough to keep pace with other cities in Canada.

Obviously, I’m in favour of public spending on the arts. But it’s a little bizarre that we’d compare our per-capita spending with other, smaller cities. You’d think that we would have certain efficiencies of scale in a big city, much like you do with many other aspects of government spending (Ontario, for example, spends far less per capita than all other provinces). After all, despite Vancouver spending more than three times per capita what Toronto spends, I don’t see many people complaining that Vancouver’s got a better arts scene. If a city only needs one symphony or opera house, wouldn’t it be cheaper on a per capita basis in a city with more capitas? And as the metropole, doesn’t Toronto also benefit from disproportionate arts spending by both the province and feds? And doesn’t the private sector actually serve Toronto fairly well as well, since it’s such a big market? (And that’s before you get to other, more existential questions, like “what counts as Vancouver or Montreal in determining population and spending, since they have wildly different forms of government?”).

All of which is to say, I don’t think it’s smart policy to simply say “We should spend what City X, Y, and Z spend!” What we should be doing is assessing what we NEED and what we WANT from the arts in the city of Toronto, figure out what that’ll cost and if we can afford it, and spend that amount.

On the lighter side, I met Canada’s reigning lifestyle TV gay gurus, Steven & Chris, and chatted with them about 15 years in television. They were quite lovely and it was actually quite interesting to hear about their journey into television and being a famous out couple.

And I also chatted with the CEO of yet another queer dating app, VGL, which aims to make online cruising just a little more superficial sexy. VGL is another amusing toy for your phone, but at present it remains a little sparsely populated in Toronto.

There remain a couple of inventoried stories that may pop up over the holiday break. Merry X-Mas everyone!

DailyXtra Roundup: Bike Lanes, Parks, Grocers, Toronto Centre, Travel etc.

Been a couple print cycles since I’ve updated this archive so there’s a bit to cover here.

After guessing the city would miss it’s announced “summer 2013” launch date of the new curb-separated bike lanes on Wellesley-Hoskin-Harbord, I got the city’s cycling infrastructure manager to explain that the construction is scheduled to begin in September and continue through 2014. A number of other new lanes will also be built before the end of the fall.

The city is also closing Cawthra Park for nine months in order to renovate it in time for World Pride. It was supposed to begin Aug 19, but the park is still open, so…

Meanwhile, trans activist Susan Gapka has announced her candidacy for the NDP nomination in Toronto Centre. Apparently, the fact I called and asked her if she was considering running back when Bob Rae retired is one of the major factors that inspired her to run, which… Anyway, Gapka’s not a real contender — she announced her candidacy after the cut-off for new members to join the NDP and still get the right to vote, so she really doesn’t stand a chance.

Incidentally, both the Liberals and the NDP are holding their nomination meetings on Sept 15. The Liberals announced their meeting after the NDP did, and the new-member sign-up they imposed likely disadvantaged Todd Ross, who held a sign up event after the cut-off date. I’ll be reporting on both nominations.

Nearly two years after Loblaws arrived in the Village, and on the occasion of About Cheese and No Frills closing up shop, I looked into where people can grocery shop in the Village. I’m not really on the anti-Loblaws side here. As I note in the story, there’s still ample grocery options in the Village, mega-grocers aren’t new to the neighbourhood, Loblaws is a good union employer, and the Village shouldn’t be about groceries anyway.

My New York travel profile finally went online.

And also, I wrote a feature about road-tripping through Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, in which I made a pun about ropes, boots, and paddles.


DailyXtra: Toronto Centre byelection; Travel Issues

Argh… second attempt at posting this now…

I spent a lot of time this cycle covering the Toronto Centre byelection — a date for which still hasn’t been set. Earlybird nominees were LGBT activist Todd Ross for the Liberals and journalist Jennifer Hollett for the NDP. Then I interviewed journalist/economic writer Chrystia Freeland, who’s competing for the Liberal nod, and journalist/economic writer Linda McQuaig, who’s challenging for the NDP nod (sensing a theme here?). No one has yet announced intentions to compete for the Green or Conservative nominations.

I also reported on the city’s abortive attempt to make the new Church St parklets “non-smoking” locations. God knows what Kristyn Wong-Tam was thinking here, trying to designate parts of an uncovered sidewalk next to a busy road as “smoke free.”

This week’s issue is travel-themed, and it includes my analysis of the city and province’s attempts to make Toronto the next big gay travel destination in time for World Pride next year. Hot tip: stop trying to close down every new club, bar, and restaurant that opens in the city. There’s also my feature on travel to New York City, but as yet it’s only available in the print edition.

Xtra: Byelection! German Censorship! Whistler! And more!

It was a busy week at Xtra for me — I don’t think I’ve ever filed 5 stories in a single week as a freelancer, but all that cash sure comes in handy before Pride. And hey, all the stories are published on Xtra‘s sexy new web site, dailyxtra.com! It’s a vast improvement on the musty old design, innit? The current beta version seems to default to a “World” setting when I land on it, but you can find the usual Toronto/Ottawa/Vancouver pages at the top, along with a “Canada” page.

Biggest story of the week was the announcement that Bob Rae was retiring as the MP for Toronto Centre, a riding which includes the gay village. This touched off intense speculation about who would be seeking to replace him in a byelection that will likely take place in November, with a few prominent gays putting out feelers already.

Note: If one of those gays wins, that will be 7 out gay MPs — the gayest Parliament ever (at 6, we’re currently tied with the period between 2008-2009, after Rob Oliphant was elected, but before Réal Ménard quit). Of course, we all know there’s at least two closeted MPs, and I’ve heard rumours of a third, but I’m not counting them.

Oh and this may be the first time Xtra‘s closed comments on a story I’ve written, presumably in response to numerous anonymous commenters accusing me of being a Liberal and (I’m assuming) sarcastically encouraging me to run. New Democrats accuse me of being a Liberal, Liberals accuse me of being a New Democrat. The difference is the Liberals usually say this to my face, whereas New Democrats retreat to anonymous comments. (BTW, the comment claiming to be written by “Brendan Healy” wasn’t actually). [Oh wait, the comments don’t seem to have migrated from the old site, so….]

Meanwhile, Health Canada is cracking down on Poppers right before Pride. Never really got the appeal of poppers. Whenever I’ve seen guys use them, they smell disgusting.

In sadder news, Toronto Police are looking for three men accused of sexually assaulting a woman while making derogatory comments about her sexual orientation.

I picked up a pair of stories from Xtra Vancouver as well. WinterPride in Whistler claims it has a $9-million dollar impact on the BC economy based on a study commissioned by the resort town. I’m usually really skeptical about these economic impact studies, but the number doesn’t sound that unreasonable. Unfortunately, the town refuses to release the study citing competition concerns.

And finally, Germany’s largest bookseller — which happens to be owned by the Catholic Church, which, what? — has banned a gay book by a Vancouver publisher.

Xtra, Xtra: 10 years of gay marriage, blood, OutTV, and sex work

I neglected to update my freelance archive for May, so here’s me making up for it.

At the beginning of the month, I reported on the OutTV’s appeal to the CRTC to reduce their CanCon broadcasting requirements. It’s actually fascinating to watch traditional cable outlets and the CRTC hash out their obligations in a business environment that’s rapidly making both obsolete. Sure, for the next few years — perhaps even for a decade — Canadians will still be subscribing to “channels” that curate content for their pleasure, but that model is dying fast against the rise of Internet-based content distributors that allow consumers to pick only the shows they want, commercial free. How will the CRTC enforce CanCon rules in such an environment? How can a gay channel exist except as a producer of original content that people willingly purchase? (I suppose the option the CRTC will eventually pick is that Netflix-like providers will either be obligated to either charge a fee to support original domestic production, or that they’ll be obligated to offer a certain amount of domestic content on their a la carte packages, but both presuppose the end of specialty channels except as content creators).

Meanwhile, I wrote a piece about the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear interventions from several sex worker support groups in the upcoming constitutional case on the our sex work laws.

Then I wrote a piece about Health Canada’s announcement that they were replacing the lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have ever had sex with men, even once, since 1977, with a ban on men who have had sex with men in the last five years. I suppose this for the first time allows men who had like, one gay experience in college to donate, but it still effectively bars gay men from donating blood on the flimsy rationale supported by bad science that’s since been discredited in several other countries.

Finally, for the modern history buffs, you might like to check out the timeline of same-sex marriage I wrote for Xtra’s cover feature this week. You won’t find it online for some reason, but if you pick up the print edition, you can trace the evolution of gay marriage from the first partnership registry in Denmark in 1989, to the gay marriage-y-est month in history, April-May 2013, when 277 million people suddenly found themselves living in an equal marriage jurisdiction.

On an unrelated note, I’ve decided to launch a new Twitter feed for all my live-snarking of bad movies and TV. Follow @RealTimeBad for all the delightful awfulness.

Xtra: A busy day of Grindr and Federal Politics

Unfortunately, the two subjects do not intersect.

It was a busy day for me at Xtra, with two stories. The first, and probably more important to the real world story is my analysis of the final proposal for federal riding boundary adjustments. The good news is that the commission seems to have really listened to the submissions from deputants at the public hearings. The Village has been maintained whole in Toronto Centre.

The proposed new riding of Mount Pleasant — which some had guessed was designed to finally give the Conservatives a competitive riding in downtown Toronto — has been scrapped. In its place is a new riding called Spadina–Fort York, which includes the central Waterfront, Chinatown, and the part of the city south of Dundas and west of Bay.

The proposed redistribution for downtown Toronto

The proposed redistribution for downtown Toronto

Another new riding, University–Rosedale, replaces Trinity–Spadina. It includes the entire University of Toronto campus, the Annex, Rosedale, Moore Park, and the part of the city east of Ossington between the rail tracks and Dundas. While Chow had a lock on nearly all the polls here in 2011, I imagine she can’t be happy about fighting for Rosedale. Conversely, I can’t imagine the people of Rosedale being happy about being lumped together with the students and hippies. To be honest, the only arrangement for Rosedale that makes sense to me would be was the proposed Mount Pleasant arrangement that attached it to parts of St. Paul’s to the North. This is ultimately the problem of the single-member first-past-the-post system — entire neighbourhoods can be effectively disenfranchised t

hrough riding design (ie, if Chow can win 60% of the rest of the riding, why even bother campaigning in Rosedale?).

Over in my story at Xtra, I elaborate on what this may mean for the Liberals and NDP in downtown Toronto.

Meanwhile, I also posted a review/interview with Jaime Woo for his new book Meet Grindr: How One App Changed The Way We Connect. I managed to read the book while I was in New York over the weekend (where I was performing in Paul Hutcheson’s Canuck Cabaret at the Frigid New York Theatre Festival).

Jaime has some interesting theories about how Grindr is actually a video game with rules about how to play, score, and win. Check out the article. The book’s worth reading too.