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Canada’s gay and lesbian newspaper: poor job in representing L's in its name

Photo courtesy of

On October 18, Xtra! Magazine, the publication that bills itself as Canada’s gay and lesbian newspaper, published its 500th issue, and with it a timeline of gay and lesbian history in Vancouver since the 1970s.

Five hundred issues of activism and advocacy is a remarkable thing and should be celebrated by everyone in the LGBT community. But you wouldn’t necessarily know it to read the events on the timeline.

Xtra! Vancouver, Photo courtesy of Facebook

Even for a magazine that refuses to include one half of the LGBT spectrum in its moniker, Xtra! has done a poor job representing the Ls in its name. There is no mention of Vancouver’s first out city councillor, a lesbian named Ellen Woodsworth who co-founded the lesbian feminist housing collective New Morning in the early 70s. Also absent from the list is the women’s occupation of the Georgia Straight offices in 1971, publishing the Women’s Liberated Georgia Straight on April 8.

Ellen Woodsworth, Photo courtesy of Facebook

And women are not the only group often excluded from the magazine. Xtra! has defended its position as gay and lesbian, not LGBT or queer, often resulting in the exclusion of the bisexual, transgender and other communities.

In April 2011, the magazine refused to refer to artists Elisha Lim by their preferred pronoun—they—on the grounds that it would confuse readers. Later in the year, an Xtra! writer used transgender sex worker Lexi Tronic’s former name on Facebook. Instead of offering a sincere apology when he was informed of how disrespectful and potentially dangerous revealing a trans person’s birth name can be, the writer shifted focus onto the so-called “mixed-messages” he received from the trans community. In January of this year, transgender musician Rae Spoon declined to be interviewed by Xtra! because the magazine wouldn’t guarantee it would use their chosen pronoun.

Xtra! managing editor Robin Perelle said the timeline wasn’t intended to be comprehensive.

“The goal was to choose these key events in a very short timeline that were key for all of us, important for the community as a whole.” Perelle said she often relies on different branches of the community to be their own advocates.

“Timelines are subjective. People include different things. People see different moments as pivotal.”

Shortly after the issue was released, the Queer Imaging and Riting Kollective for Elders (Quirk-e) presented Perelle with a six-page list of key moments in lesbian history in Vancouver. She said she intends to publish as much of the information as she can.

“Somebody's got to bring forward that information. To a certain extent, the stories we share are the stories that are brought to us.” She added that she is happy to hear from anyone who wants to help fill in the gaps.

This is a complicated issue. Women’s history in particular tends to be bound up in numerous other movements. Minorities often intersect and overlap, and it’s easy for one group to get subsumed by another. But we can’t fail to recognize the ways in which queers of all genders have contributed to the social climate of the city today. Making safe spaces means building critical mass. We need to see our intersections as points of connection and use our difference to broaden the scope of our foundations.

Information about these groups and events is not readily available. A quick Google search won’t do the trick. So while it’s unsurprising that much of it gets left out, it also makes it all the more important to use these opportunities to bring overlooked histories to light. They’re a crucial piece of the conversation, and we can’t move forward without them.

Here are a few of the events and milestones I would like to see marked:

1968 – The Vancouver Women’s Caucus formed, published Pedestal, Canada’s first women’s liberation newspaper. In a later interview, feminist activist Margo Dunn said, “We became conscious that lesbians were kind of a secret and somewhat oppressed within our own movement.”

1977 – Transsexual and Transvestite Support Group started, BC Federation of Women started Right of Lesbians subcommittee.

1979 – Feminist and Lesbian Mothers’ Political Action Group founded, lesbian phone line started, first lesbian march.

1980 – BiFocus, a bisexual support group started.

1996 – Vancouverite Jamie Lee Hamilton became the first openly transgender person to run for political office in Canada.

2000 – First North American Bisexual Conference held in Vancouver.

2005 – British Columbia (and all other provinces except for Alberta) amended their human rights law to include sexual orientation. The North West Territories amended theirs to include gender identity, BOLDFest (Bold Older Lesbians and Dykes) was held for the first time.

2010 – Elise Chenier, a professor in Simon Fraser University’s history department, created the Archives of Lesbian Oral Testimony (ALOT).

2012 – Vancouverite Jenna Talackova became the first transgender contestant in the Miss Universe Canada pageant. Talackova was initially disqualified because she wasn't born female, but Donald Trump overruled the decision and allowed her to compete.

Intergenerational communication provides touchstones to guide each new generation of LGBT youth in forging their identities, and to ignore the histories of any one group is to rob that family of its elders.

We can fight oppression in its many forms. We can mourn, and we can celebrate with the myriad facets of our community without resorting to marginalizing each other. Equality is not a starvation economy. Sharing the struggle does not diminish its reward. On the contrary, the more complete our history, the stronger the foundation upon which we will continue to build.

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