What the end of Xtra's print edition means for LGBT visibility in Vancouver

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Xtra isn't dead.

      It's continuing on in its digital life, still delivering in-depth news coverage about Canada's LGBT communities as it has since it began in 1984.

      Nonetheless, members of Vancouver's queer communities (as well as those in Ottawa and Toronto, where it was also distributed) are mourning the loss of the newspaper's print edition.

      When the final edition hit the streets on February 12, it was the end of an era.

      Unlike many other local publications, this one was tied to a specific sociopolitical movement, both drawing from and chronicling the twists and turns and highs and lows that come with the struggle for social progress over four decades.

      What will also be lost with the end of the print edition will be the presence of Xtra's newspaper boxes on the streets of Vancouver. That means a potential reduction in LGBT visibility and street presence in the city, particularly at a time when some locals have been concerned about LGBT establishments and venues vanishing or becoming straight-dominant.

      Visibility is a vital issue to LGBT communities. Unlike visible racial or cultural minorities, LGBT communities can potentially become invisible, not only through censorship, exclusion, and omission but also due to some of its members not being recognized as LGBT or even being closeted.

      Over the course of Xtra's print run, visibility has changed considerably for LGBT communities in numerous ways that may have been unimaginable or merely wishful thinking during the days of the publication's infancy.

      Coverage of LGBT issues has increased in mainstream media (although perhaps not quite as in-depth or consistent as Xtra's coverage provided) and pop cultural representation (films, TV, ads, music) has significantly grown, with everything from TV series like Will & Grace and The Ellen DeGeneres Show to LGBT movies like Milk and TransAmerica

      Gay-straight alliances, the creation of policies addressing homophobia and transphobia, and LGBT awareness have also arisen in schools.

      Let's not forget the Vancouver Pride parade (and Pride Week), which has also become a major success story, with hordes of people—including kids and families—turning out to what started as a grassroots activist movement that was attacked by onlookers in its early days.

      Perhaps most significantly, Canada legalized same-sex marriage in 2005, making it the fourth country in the world to legalize it nationally and the first outside of Europe.

      Same-sex couples have increasingly become visible holding hands and displaying affection on the street, particularly in areas outside of traditional LGBT neighbourhoods. Same-sex parents, and their acceptance and recognition by opposite-sex couples and straight peers, are also a growing visible demographic.

      The Internet has also played a role in helping LGBT people to become more geographically diverse. The ability to access queer social resources and services online means that LGBT people may not feel as socially isolated if living outside of traditional areas.

      Yet visible representation remains important to newcomers to Vancouver. Immigrants, refugees, and visitors, whether straight or LGBT, may arrive from countries where LGBT issues are still invisible, even criminalized, and they may have never seen LGBT publications, establishments, or even "out" individuals in real life.

      That's why things like the rainbow crosswalks at Bute and Davie Streets are important (as well as the rainbow LED strip lighting installed along Davie Street), not just for historical reasons but for ongoing presence, particularly in an area where gaybashings have taken place. The recent death of Ritch Dowrey, the victim of a homophobic attack at a West End establishment which is perceived as a "safe" space for the community, was a tragic reminder of how much work there is left to be done.

      Initiatives like Our City of Colours, which creates multilingual posters of LGBT people from various cultural and linguistic communities, are also helping to address invisibility in specific communities in the Lower Mainland.

      But it's not just newcomers from other countries for whom visibility is important.

      There are also those who have moved here from rural or conservative areas in North America. Cities like Vancouver have traditionally been migration destinations for LGBT people to come out in. Although that's changing, with the emergence of Pride parades and LGBT organizations in small or rural towns and places across British Columbia like Squamish and Quesnel

      Nonetheless, LGBT visibility remains an important issue for those who make Vancouver their home, whether they've moved here seeking refuge from hostile or rejecting home environments or they've simply grown up in this city.

      Hopefully Xtra will continue to propel social progress with its digital version as the LGBT movement faces and overcomes new challenges in the era of the Internet.  




      Mar 3, 2015 at 11:58pm

      Their YouTube channel "xtraonline" is okay too. Some video's are better than others, but they feature some interesting interviews and pieces every now and then.