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February 11, 1975-May 21, 2010
Toronto queer icon Will Munro lost his long battle with brain cancer last week, leaving a huge hole in the local scene. I’ve spent the last year dreading this day, and mentally preparing to write this obituary, but when it’s someone who’s had such an important place in your life, you can never be ready. He was an artist, a DJ, a promoter, a bar owner, an activist and youth worker, but his impact on the city is much bigger than the sum of those parts.
I met Munro 14 years ago, when we were both studying at OCAD. We immediately bonded over a shared interest in the hidden queer underbelly of punk rock, and quickly became an unlikely couple. He was a defiantly gay, straight-edge, vegan hardcore kid, and I was a sexually ambiguous party guy with a rockabilly haircut, and while the relationship only lasted about eight months, I’d like to think we left a significant mark on each other’s future life.
At the time, right wing talk radio was having a field day attacking Munro’s art, for creating work with used underwear rescued from Goodwill, and for addressing youth sexuality. He recognized that the hate was a good thing, and proudly incorporated recordings of loudmouths lambasting him on his answering machine message. While Will might not have been the type to push buttons for no reason, he was always happy to piss people off for the right reasons.
He introduced me to the young community of Toronto indie musicians who would later end up becoming the hipster establishment, while I took him to raves and preached about DJ culture. Years later he would take the concept of the DJ party and turn it on its head with his legendary Vazaleen nights, which saw him playing queer punk and gender-bender rock tunes to an incredibly diverse crowd. These days it’s normal in Toronto for hip gay scenes to flourish outside of the queer ghetto and to attract a wide spectrum of genders and orientations, but that didn’t really happen until Vazaleen took off and became a veritable community for everyone who didn’t fit into the mainstream homo world. For too long it was too rare to see dykes, fags, trans people and breeders hanging out together, and Munro changed that.
Whether he was making art, throwing parties, running the Beaver or doing activist work, Munro always managed to find a way to put the marginalized at the front of the line. Many people long for a place where they feel they belong, but Will actually built those spaces – both for him, and for everyone else who needed them. Queer Queen West is a cliché now, but we wouldn’t have it without him.
He would say we’re overstating his impact, but that’s just him being humble. Without a doubt, he changed Toronto, and for the better.