Mitchell Thompson in Toronto's gay village.

Photo: Jacob Dubé

Their village or ours?

In Communities10 Comments

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By Mitchell Thompson

Toronto’s gay village is more of a block.

It begins at Wood Street and ends mostly at Wellesley Street with smaller places along the periphery. These extend to Carlton, with Zippers and Spa Excess – the bathhouse on top of a Chinese restaurant – and north, either to Gloucester Street with Fly and the 519 or to Isabella Street with the Gay and Lesbian archives.

For the most part: the village ends north at the Hero Burger on Wellesley Street and south at Wood Street.

I’m told that nestled between these chain restaurants is a community. But, I can’t say that I’ve found it.

The village has become very expensive and as a result, it is a very white, increasingly conservative and a rather boring scene, which is not particularly welcoming to outsiders or young people. This is obviously problematic for a community.

The lack of real community in the village was even mentioned in that noted lefty-queer rag the Globe and Mail. There, Vidya Kauri writes, “When the village was first taking shape, it was an asylum – an affordable one – for gay people across Canada. But gentrification has sent rents sky high and some local gay businesses have closed as a result.” Meanwhile, the Star notes that “focusing on customers with money keeps the village largely the haunt of middle-aged, middle-class white men.”

I don’t live near the village. When I do go there, I find that I don’t have a whole lot in common with the people who reside there. I really don’t feel that I belong in their community.

As a result, most of my time in the village is spent walking up and down Church Street rather aimlessly. I wander in for coffee or to kill time welcomed by the rainbows and thinking this is where I should be. But, I don’t know where to stop. I can’t afford to go to most of the places there and the ones that I can afford either bore me or make me feel uneasy. If you stick around long enough, you see other gay men doing the same walk. That’s our so-called community.

Was it always like this? Is it possible that the “asylum” that Kauri described was always marketing?

I asked my friend, Michael Lyons, who writes about gay history for Xtra. He maintains that the current blandness is different. Lyons says the difference is in who the community includes. He says the village “used to be all about fucking and sometimes art and activism.” But now “poor radical queers and art types can’t afford it.” As a result, he says what “used to be a haven for outcasts is a tourist destination.”

The need for a gay centre is still present. Harold Madi, partner with The Planning Partnership, told Blog.TO that “What I hear the most from people is that need is still there. This area is still the place of arrival and transition for LGBT people across the country, especially those in smaller communities. They know Church and Wellesley. Gay youth and adults that are finding their identity, they come here.”

Mitchell Thompson is a second-year journalism student. He will be writing a regular queer affairs column for the Eye.


  1. I think this article for the most part is ridiculous and as a journalism student, I would grade this poorly.

    What exactly is Expensive on Church St that is not the same price elsewhere? Rent is high yes, but its Downtown. I live in the village but don’t go out it in often…..But Hello Have you looked at the people? White middle aged men? Turn on Grindr or Scruff, Look around in the bars…College night on Wednesdays is primarily African Americans. Your vision is very tunneled.

    Has the Village changed? YES…but at same time its a sign of the times…..and obviously the owners of many establishments that have closed seen $$$$ in offering up their place for a condo. Your Councillor Krystin Tam Wong approves of many of the demolishment of historic venues. Only recently was the old Barn and Stables saved from a condo being beside it.

    The problem is the not necessarily the village, rather its the gay patrons who come down here who have this self rightous sense of entitlement…people who no longer care about a “private village” for the “gays”. The problem is…its the same people, same drama, same issues, time and time again and people are branching out because they Gay community ITSELF segregated themselves into stereotypical segments (Bears, Twinks, Hipsters, Queens, Leather Daddys, Chubs, Chasers, Lesbian, Dyke, Bull Dyke etc…) That is whats appalling and that is WHY there is no longer a sense of community because people are too preoccupied with labeling and seeing everything based on physical looks.

    1. Where to begin?
      1) Journalism students do not generally grade articles, so I suppose I’m safe.
      2) the issue of expense is certainly not unique to the village and I did not make that claim. Downtown is expensive. The village is not immune to that and yes, that undermines community goals. The same goes for the condo problem.
      3) Kristen Wong-Tam is not my councillor. I said in the article that I do not live in or near the village.
      4) Regarding diversity, I’m not the first to point that out. I think your issue is more with the Star and the Globe and Xtra. Your observations may be different and I encourage you to write your own column entitled, “stuff I saw on Grindr and other anecdotes.”
      Perhaps the Globe has a conspiracy against white people?
      5) Perhaps we need to change the definition of diversity to “sometimes black people can be seen on Scruff in this area,”
      6) I’m still trying to understand your rambling third paragraph. Perhaps I should consult a cryptologist?

  2. I truly believe it is a good sign of the times, gays no longer have to be restricted into a self made ghetto, when I think back to those days when the St Charles Letro’s ( risking rotten tomatoes and eggs thrown at you on Halloween!!) and a few other places were safe havens, today we can go to any part of our fantastic city and feel comfortable, I live around the corner of the “Gay Village) too expensive some of the restaurants have snooty staff members, I can now go anywhere and feel totally comfortable

  3. Has this guy ever been to the village?? look around it is very diverse, not just “middle aged white men’ and where are the expensive places that only white middle aged white men can haunt /??? Stand at the corner of Church and Wellesley look at the demographics of those passing by. look at the demographics of the kids at the local school, there is a lot of social housing and co-operative nearby, not just expensive condo’s.Agreed the village is changing , but that is the nature of the scene, So called ‘radical queers’ whatever that means, hang out elsewhere out of choice, not because it is expensive. the village was never a good place for young ‘Queers” to migrate ,most ended up an a booze and drug hell.

  4. When I moved to Toronto in 2000, a young student still finding myself as a queer person and looking for somewhere to ‘fit in’, I too felt like I did not ‘fit’ in the village and that I didn’t have a place there. I don’t think this is an uncommon experience today, or that it ever has been. In a sense it makes total sense: of course the community doesn’t have a pre-fabricated spot designed precisely for you to drop into – you’ve never been part of it before!

    Years later, I’ve come to realize that any expectation I had, that I might easily fall into a queer community designed to wrap itself around me and instantly provide me with a sense of belonging, came from a sense of entitlement and privilege. Some kind of expectation that it was anyone’s job but my own to create and nurture a sense of community that I felt part of.

    Community isn’t made *for* us, but *by* us. If you don’t see yourself reflected in the community, then do something about it – volunteer for some community-based organizations, attend community functions, be kind and helpful to others around you. If the types of events and activities you’re looking for don’t exist yet, then start organizing them and inviting others to join. Do these things and one day, all of a sudden, you will realize that – as if from nowhere – you have built up a community around yourself.

    It took years of connecting with people, volunteering in the community, pushing past any discomfort sprouting from years of internalizing homophobic and transphobic attitudes, and otherwise just ‘showing up’, before I felt like there was a place in the community for someone ‘like me.’ Those years were not fun, and I sympathize with you and how difficult it can be to feel out of place in a community where you so obviously want to have a place.

    The ‘community’ isn’t *actually* a walled-off, pay-for-access, exclusive space that only some have access to – it’s what you *make* it. If you’re queer, consider yourself de-facto ‘part’ of the community, and if there are things you think are missing, then please put your best talents and energies towards building them – we will all be better for it.

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