Looking back, looking forward: Staff writer V. S. Wells on the Straight's not-so-straight history
For something called the Straight, the hippie paper of Vancouver has long supported the queer community.
The Georgia Straight was founded in 1967, two years before Bill C-150 decriminalized same-sex activity. It made history by hiring the first openly queer columnist in Canada in 1970. Kevin Dale McKeown recalled the fateful meeting in a 2020 essay:
“Are you gay?” was the first question editor Dan McLeod asked. That was easy, and maybe even fairly obvious from my puffy-sleeved turquoise pirate shirt.
“Do you know the gay scene?” That was less certain, so I lied: “Oh, yes, of course!”
“Okay. $20 a week. Have your first column in next Monday.”
McKeown’s iconic column, QQ Writes…Page 69, ran for five years between 1970 and 1975. He covered the city’s still-underground queer scene: the clubs and the hustlers, drag queens and drugs, political movements and business dealings.
I remember reading a smattering of them when I interned at the Straight in 2018: discussing local gay bathhouses, or compiling an FAQ of questions straight people loved to ask. In one column, he notes a drag queen had a heart attack and died on stage.
Holding that history in my hands was a gift. Reading words from people in my community from years before I was ever born reminded me of the struggles that LGBTQ2S+ people have long been dealing with. But it’s also a testament to our beauty, our perseverance: the joy we snatch in secret spaces when society tells us to keep quiet.
That work has continued for decades. The Straight in its earliest years had a literature supplement, founded by gay writer and literati Stan Perksy. The paper more recently has covered the corporatization of pride, and trans activists fighting for healthcare, and queer artists making damn weird shit in their Strathcona studio collectives. It wasn’t always perfect, but it was a platform long before the mic normally got passed to us.
It’s thanks to LGBTQ2S+ elders doing the work that I’m here in this industry at all, as a queer non-binary immigrant. Trans and non-binary journalists across Canada are still relatively rare, as is the case with many marginalized groups: it is difficult to break into an insular industry, which leads to a narrow selection of people writing stories about communities that they aren’t a part of. But we are doing the work—in Vancouver, in BC, across Canada.
McKeown’s column was important for establishing the Straight as somewhere that saw the LGBTQ2S+ community as part of the city: not an Other, but a Here.
Here you are, in your rainbows. Here you are, in our pages. Here you are, in our city.