Just over two years ago, Toronto lost one of its most important queer civic heroes when local artist, DJ, activist, impresario, promoter, party-thrower, café operator, community-builder, and lover Will Munro died of brain cancer. We still haven’t recovered from the loss.
The Golden Gitch Awards
Will Munro’s spirit is still alive in the work of people building bridges and filling Toronto with art, electricity, and sexy crocheting. No one person will ever be able to fill his bedazzled briefs, but we’ve compiled a highly subjective list of individuals whose contributions deserve to be recognized for keeping the conversation going.
WHO: The 18-year-old student who became the face of the recent war to allow Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in Ontario Catholic schools.
WHY: It’s hard to imagine having the wherewithal to face off against the Catholic church on their not-so-stellar gay-rights track record in general, but it’s downright impossible to fathom being confident enough to do so as a queer teenager. A lot has already been written about Iskander, the student who rallied for the right to have a GSA (and call that GSA by its proper name) in her Catholic school, but her commitment to making things better right now helped set an example for politicians, educators, parents, and other burgeoning queer activists.
WHO: Writer, musician, and QueerOntario political action committee chair who helped advocate on behalf of students in the Catholic-school GSA fight.
WHY: Oraa has written about the intersection between queer politics and the Occupy movement, bringing a much-needed discussion of class into LGBTQ culture, and with QueerOntario, he’s worked to infuse a host of Will-approved values—safe spaces, sex-positivity, liberation—into various institutions through community activism. Most importantly, when Oraa had Iskander’s back in the mud-slinging Ontario Catholic schools vs. GSAs battle, it helped transmit a message of cross-generational cooperation throughout the queer and mainstream media.
WHO: Half of the band Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, which fuses noise, rock, opera, manga-styled visuals, trippy effects, Japanese Noh theatre, and postcolonial identity politics into one awe-inspiring explosion.
WHY: Alaska B has been outspoken about the ways in which various cultural identities and collaborations with different groups (mixed-race, First Nations, queer, Asian, trans) influence her artistic practice.* Her willingness to be forthcoming might not sound that remarkable, but when you consider that Yamantaka // Sonic Titan have become cult favourites in the North American indie-rock universe, and that Alaska and her fellow band member, Ruby Kato Attwood, are, by and large, performing and engaging in these conversations with members of the primarily straight mainstream press, you can get a sense of the sprawling range of their influence.
WHO: Queen of feminist maximal art, fat activist, videomaker, women’s studies professor. Member of size-positive performance troupe Pretty Porky and Pissed Off. Co-founder of Toronto’s formidable Feminist Art Gallery.
WHY: Mitchell represents many of the aesthetic principles central to Will’s practice: reclaimed crafting techniques, needlework, and a defiant embrace of the gorgeous grotesqueness of the body. Her Feminist Art Gallery, with its declared mission “to grow sustainable feminist art,” is a heart-swelling group hug of a thing—part backyard art space, part collective-minded support system, part fuck-you to the traditionally patriarchal world of high art. Will, who self-identified as a “lesbro,” was an unwavering feminist; he’d be right at home at the FAG.
Kim Katrin Crosby
WHO: Queer, gifted, and black artist, writer, performer, MC, playwright, community organizer, and activist. Co-founder of The People Project.
WHY: A force to be reckoned with, the incredibly prolific Crosby manages, like Will, to explore her own ideas around intersecting identities and anti-oppressive politics in her work, which she uses as a tool to educate the public. With The People Project, a collective that focuses on empowerment and community engagement, she helps connect young queer and trans people of colour with leadership opportunities.
WHO: Frontwoman for local indie-rock band Ohbijou, mentor to young Filipina women through the Kapisanan Philippine Centre, member of the Almost Not Quite collective.
WHY: An understated activist who uses art as a vehicle to create affecting messages for social change, Mecija is that rare thing—a seemingly egoless lead singer who’s more interested in making collective statements than dominating the spotlight. Like Will, she brings together divergent subcultures: She has a foot in the straight indie-rock world, DJs at mixed parties, and works alongside video artists in the Almost Not Quite collective, where she and her fellow members infuse their events with an inclusive and politically engaged ethos.
CORRECTION, JUNE 28, 2012: The original version of this article, as it appears in the June 28, 2012, edition of The Grid, claimed that Alaska B personally claims a First Nations identity. This is not true. The Grid apologizes for this error.