It's that time of year again. Time to honour your heroes, celebrate their contributions and salute our strengths as a community.

After hours of tallying your nominations and conferring with our community panel of judges, Xtra West is proud to present the three finalists in each category.

But first a note on procedure. After the success of last year's inaugural community judging panel, we decided to do it again.

In the past, the Xtra West Heroes team had tabulated the community's votes on its own and picked the winners in each category accordingly. Last year, we decided to bring more community voices into the mix so we created a community panel of judges, invited some key people to join, ordered pizza and rolled up our sleeves.

This year, we invited a different group of people to join us to ensure an ever-changing mix of diverse representation on the panel. The 2009 judges are: Jennifer Breakspear (executive director of The Centre), Phillip Banks (executive director of the Health Initiative for Men), Amber Dawn (programming director of the Vancouver Queer Film Festival and last year's Community Hero of the Year), Ryan Clayton (youth PrideSpeak facilitator), plus the managing editor of Xtra West (that's me).

We met on Mar 20, three days after the nominations closed. Several hours of amicable debate and disagreement later, we had our list of finalists.

Winners will be announced at this year's Xtra West Community Achievement Awards on Sun Apr 26 at the Vancity Theatre on Seymour St at Davie. Please join us as we honour our Heroes of 2009.

And the nominees are...

Community Hero of the Year

Chantell Gregg and John Kuipers for spearheading the Social Justice Rally in Abbotsford Dec 6.

Gregg first called for a Pride parade in Abbotsford last fall after the district's school board cancelled Social Justice 12 in the one high school willing to offer the course. "I heard gay, faggot and lesbo in my school so many times. I was sick of the discrimination in the schools and on the streets of Abbotsford and I wanted to do something," the 16-year-old says.

She created a Facebook site and refused to back down even in the face of opposition. The proposed Pride parade eventually morphed into last December's rally that drew hundreds of queers and their allies to the streets of BC's Bible Belt for a groundbreaking show of strength and visibility.

When Kuipers, then 23 years old, heard about Gregg's initiative, he rushed to offer whatever help he could. As president of the University of the Fraser Valley's Pride group, he asked his group to pitch in and then anchored the organizational aspects of the rally.

"I grew up going to a private Christian school and I knew the struggles growing up in conservative community," he says. "Seeing that and the work that I do with gay and lesbian youth led me to want to help."

Kuipers then stood his ground when the city threatened to fine him in the 11th hour if he didn't re-route the marchers.

The rally "was probably the most groundbreaking thing" Abbotsford has seen in awhile, he says.

Matthew Taylor for creating a support network for male and transgendered sex workers and street-involved youth in Yaletown, the West End and throughout the Vancouver area. With six years experience in the sex trade himself, Taylor founded Hustle: Men on the Move in 2007 and now works as its program director offering peer support, safe sex materials, nutrition, harm reduction and needle exchanges to street-level sex workers and street-involved youth. "Hopefully, by showing consistency in our services, HUSTLE can help build relationships that foster trust and respect," the group's website reads. "We intend for this to create a sense of community and increase the health and safety of sex workers on the streets of Vancouver." Hustle, which is the male and youth component of PEERS Vancouver Resource Society, also recently launched support groups for male sex workers and those who identify as male.

David C Jones for building community through laughter. Through Tops & Bottoms and now his new show Threesome, Jones has created a space for queer improv in Vancouver and supported many of our charitable organizations in the process. In 2008 he also got charitable status for his own group, the Laughter Mission Society, dedicated to providing comedy to people who are terminally ill and otherwise struggling with sickness and their caretakers. Kind of like our own gay Patch Adams.


Live Performance of the Year

Fighting Chance Productions for its powerful production of The Laramie Project last November. Not only did the troupe stage a gripping and deeply moving account of Matthew Sheppard's murder in Laramie, Wyoming, but it also stood up to Pastor Fred Phelps and his notoriously homophobic Westboro Baptist Church when they threatened to picket the play. Fighting Chance organized a counter-rally outside the theatre on Commercial Dr that harnessed the community's outrage at Phelps. Hundreds of queers and their allies endured hours of rain to attend and line the street with rainbows.

Darcy Michael for bringing his brand of raunchy, edgy and unabashedly gay and sexual humour beyond the relative safety of the Lower Mainland. Michael tours extensively and has performed in places like Kelowna without toning his act down, even when it makes him nervous. He has fans from frat houses to drag courts, writes one nominator. Plus he's just fucking funny.

Pride in Art
for injecting new life into showcasing a wide range of queer art forms for Pride, from paintings to erotica to cabarets and musical performances. The festival leapt forward last year in growth and energy, and it only promises to get better this year.


Youth Activist of the Year

Ryan Clayton, 21, for trying to change BC's classroom culture one school at a time. The PrideSpeak facilitator has been presenting PrideSpeak workshops to youth just a few years younger than himself for the last two years, and recently brought a series of similar workshops to his hometown area of Salmon Arm to foster gay-friendlier schools in the Interior. "We may have won some rights on a piece of paper in Ottawa," Clayton says, "but until no one is being bullied anymore, queers still need to take up the fight."

Monika Whitney for reinvigorating the Vancouver Pride Society's volunteer base. At 25 years old, Pride's widely respected volunteer coordinator has already demonstrated her ability organize and mobilize members of the queer community. In addition to the Pride Society, Whitney has also given her time over the past few years to a handful of other queer organizations "with a mission to push for exposure and visibility." She says she wants everyone to have the freedom to choose whose hand they wish to hold.

Michael Kwag
for volunteering tirelessly on numerous fronts pertaining to gay men's sexual health. In the last year, Kwag, 24, sat on the board of directors for the Asian Society for the Intervention of AIDS (ASIA), helped found the Health Initiative for Men, facilitated Totally Outright, the leadership course for young gay men, and coordinated the Vancouver version of ManCount, the national survey on gay men's sexual health.


Straight Ally of the Year

Chief Const Jim Chu for leading a change in culture at the Vancouver Police Department. Chu is by no means the first chief of police to march in Vancouver's Pride parade or drop by a queer community meeting, but Chu actually does more than just drop by our meetings. He attended and participated in The Centre's West End forum on community safety last November on the anniversary of Aaron Webster's brutal gaybashing. The department is here to share and here to listen, he told the room. "I'm looking forward to some good dialogue."

Chu also spoke at the Join Hands For Justice rally in October following Jordan Smith's gaybashing. "We care very deeply about your safety," he told the crowd. "It's personally distressing. Everyone is entitled to live free."

And for those who would commit hate crimes, Chu had a message: "They will answer to the Vancouver Police Department," he promised to loud applause.

Katie Stobbart for leading dozens of students onto the streets of Abbotsford last September after the Abbotsford School Board pulled Social Justice 12 from the one high school that offered it. Ninety-six students had already signed up for the course. "What Social Justice 12 is teaching is that everyone is a person and deserves the right to be treated as one," Stobbart, 17, told hundreds of queers and allies a few months later when the community came together to march for Social Justice Dec 6. "It restores some of my faith in the world that you are standing here," she added, "because I can be assured in some way that you have chosen social justice as well, and judged it worth your time."

Mary Yates for taking the initiative to make the Royal Arch Masonic seniors home a specifically gay-friendly environment. As the home's director of social services, Yates has gone out of her way in the last few years to retrain staff and create an inclusive culture that allows all residents to be their true selves and drives none of them back into the closet.


Visual Artist of the Year

The Vick Vancouver show for its lighthearted, engaging and honest look at life in the gay village through the eyes of a young (albeit cartoon character) gay man. "Everyone has a story. What we're doing is creating a story that every gay man can relate to in some way," Zdenky Burkhardt, one of Vick's two co-creators, told Xtra West last March. "We want people to reflect on their own stories and recognize themselves in his."

Claudia Morgado Escanilla for her thoughtful and charming film No Bikini, starring a seven-year-old who decides to shed her bikini top at summer camp. Based on a short story by Ivan Coyote, the film is about defining our own gender and discovering personal strength. It took home last year's OutTV Hot Pink Shorts Award.

Ken Boesem for capturing and reflecting our everyday lives in his comic strip The Village, a slice-of-life narrative that follows a group of gay Davie Villagers as they struggle with love, life, dating, work, money and friends. Boesem's characters grapple with the issues that many gays, lesbians and queer people deal with on a regular basis. In addition to his comic (which takes great inspiration from Coronation Street and the soap opera genre in general), Boesem is also well known in our own Village for lending an artistic activist hand to many worthy causes, such as the Join Hands for Justice rally last September.


Community Group of the Year

The Health Initiative for Men (HIM) for putting its groundbreaking new approach to gay men's health into practice. After decades of community focus on HIV/AIDS, the team behind HIM say gay men are ready for and need a more holistic approach to their own health. Executive director Phillip Banks, who has been calling for an organization dedicated specifically to gay men's health for years, says HIM will encourage gay men to connect with each other, to take action and to get involved. It's time for gay men to become more involved in their own health - and "to think of health as way beyond disease," says Banks.

The Centre for more than a decade of serving the community and particularly its most vulnerable members. The Centre offers a number of services and support groups, from coming out groups to counsellors to PrideSpeaks in schools and the Generations Project for queer seniors.

The Trans Alliance Society (TAS) for shaking itself back to life in 2008 and giving voice to trans issues and a place to gather for Vancouver's growing trans community. One of the organization's most moving moments was the Christmas Party it threw for 35 trans people, many of whom had never met each other before. They all left stuffed with turkey and a sense of community. TAS has been very visible in the last year, organizing a petition to demand protection from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression, demanding better health care coverage for gender reassignment surgery and procedures, and participating in Pride in both Vancouver and Surrey and other local events.


Writer of the Year

Rev Gary Paterson for his passionate and inspirational sermons. Behind every powerful spoken word performance is a strong writer and Paterson is no exception. As the minister at St Andrew's-Wesley United Church in the West End, he always works a little something gay into his sermons. He also moved many people when he spoke at Join Hands for Justice rally last September. "I come to you as a Christian who says no to homophobia and yes to diversity and love," he told the crowd. "Brothers and sisters we're here with a vision of hope and love. It starts because we care to act. It starts one day at a time. It starts today."

The Queer History Project for creating a space for the community to share its stories, record our collective history and celebrate where we come from. Run by Out on Screen (the society that brings us our annual Queer Film Fest), the History Project team not only maintains and constantly refines the website, but directly helps add to its content by offering writing workshops to queer seniors to help them tell their stories.

Francisco Ibañez-Carrasco
for capturing a different way to be queer in his monthly Xtra West column, East Van Queer Man. From the somewhat grittier details of daily queer life on the Drive to the challenges of surmounting the great West End-East Van cultural divide, Ibañez-Carrasco offered a fresh take on queer in Vancouver. In his spare time, the researcher-writer-outreach worker also helps other writers hone their own voices.


Volunteer of the Year

Raigen D'Angelo for putting herself out there to make Vancouver's trans community more visible and vocal. As chair of the Trans Alliance Society (TAS) in 2008, D'Angelo launched a petition both to reinvigorate the organization and to demand that gender identity and expression be added to the grounds already protected from discrimination under BC's Human Rights Code. She also volunteers with The Centre as a receptionist.

Todd Sakakibara for his commitment to HIV care and gay men's wellness. A family physician, Sakakibara has been active on the board of the Community Based Research Centre (which regularly brings us the Sex Now Survey on gay men's sexual health), as well as with the Shooting Stars Foundation dedicated to raising funds for people with HIV/AIDS. He also recently spent time in Lesotho delivering HIV care there.

Raj Bathija for eight years of volunteering tirelessly on the frontlines to support street-involved male and trans sex workers in the Boys R Us drop-in program. Batija is one of the longest serving volunteers in the organization, which offers its participants a safe space to relax, eat, socialize and access community based services.
 

Drag Queen/King of the Year

Joan-E for being so much more than a staple in Vancouver's gay and drag communities. Joan-E does so much fundraising in our community and has for years, including but not limited to her weekly gig hosting the Bingo for Life benefit. But Joan-E's most powerful contribution in 2008 had to be the memorable speech she delivered at the Join Hands for Justice rally last October. "This is a call," she told the crowd. The Vancouver Police Department says we're not reporting when we get bashed, she said. That has to change. We need to program 911 into our cell phones and call whenever any one of us gets attacked. "We are not victims," she told the crowd to thunderous applause. "We are witnesses for the prosecution."

Maximus for bringing passion, commitment and a hot George Michael impersonation to his position as Mr Gay Vancouver XXVIII in 2008. Maximus also served as Imperial Prince Royale of the Dogwood Monarchist Society and performed weekly at the society's Faux Girls events to raise funds for the society's charities.

Isolde N Baron for numerous fundraising performances in the last year, including her innovative audience participation number at High School Confidential called Drag School. Meanwhile, her alter boy ego burst onto the arts scene with a new theatre troupe called Zee Zee Theatre and staged Whale Riding Weather.


Business Citizen of the Year

The Coming Home Café for providing an unabashedly gay space in the heart of New Westminster. Owner Guy Dubé has created a rare space for queers of all ages to publicly gather, connect and find community in a suburb not particularly known for its gay spaces.

Darryl's Native Art and Coffee Shop for bringing together members of the gay and aboriginal communities and offering a friendly space in the gay village for both. Two-spirited Darryl Alexcee opened his shop in December 2003 and promptly turned it into a proudly gay and native space. Today the independent coffee shop offers a warm, welcoming space on the corner of Davie and Burrard.

Priape for its unabashedly sex-positive window displays in the heart of the gay village, its support of and donations to local groups, its commitment to stocking porn, leather gear and sex toys, and its principled refusal to sell bareback porn despite the promise of lucrative returns.


Lifetime Achievement Award:

Murray and Peter Corren for their tireless efforts to make BC schools safer, more inclusive and more welcoming places for all gay people.

The Correns have been actively fighting for the inclusion of gay realities in classrooms for more than a decade, ever since the couple, along with fellow teacher James Chamberlain, took the Surrey School Board to court for refusing to allow teachers to use three gay-friendly books in their classes.

Six years of costly arguments, court decisions, appeals and counter-appeals later, the school board eventually relented and opened the door a crack to allow some gay-friendly books in, albeit continuing to ban the original three.

Not willing to pursue the fight for gay-friendly curriculum one school board at a time, the Correns had already set their sights higher. They demanded the BC Ministry of Education step in and take the lead.

In 1999, they filed a human rights complaint against the ministry alleging that its curriculum's failure to include gay realities amounted to discrimination by omission and suppression.

That complaint - and the agreement the Correns reached with the government in 2006 to settle it - is changing the landscape of schools in BC today.

The settlement led to the introduction of a new elective course, Social Justice 12, and the promise that regular curriculum reviews will now be conducted with an eye to queer content inclusion.

It also led to a lot of discussion, new teachers' guidelines for teaching diversity, and the government's acknowledgment that gay realities had been hitherto absent from classroom materials.

"I think I was actually moved to tears," Vancouver School Board trustee Jane Bouey told Xtra West when the settlement was announced. "The crux of the issue is to have our lives reflected in everyday curriculum."

Of course the true test of the government's commitment to reflecting gay lives will be how well it actually integrates our realities into the core curriculum, above and beyond one elective course, Bouey added.

That test is still ongoing, but the Correns remain vigilant.

Last October, for example, they filed a human rights complaint against the Abbotsford School Board after it refused to offer Social Justice 12 in its district.

In addition to their commitment to changing school culture and curriculum, the Correns were also instrumental in the fight to legalize same-sex marriage in Canada. They were among BC's first petitioners for the right to marry and didn't stop advocating until gay marriage became legal across the country.

They were also instrumental in broadening gay parents' adoption rights in BC in the early 1990s. As a result of their activism on that front, gay parents won the right to adopt children jointly in BC.

More recently, they launched the Murray and Peter Corren Foundation to support queer education and its advocates in Canada and "the rightful place of queers and queer culture within the education system."



Xtra West Community Achievement Awards.
Sun Apr 26, doors 5 pm/show 6 pm.
Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St (at Davie).
To reserve your free ticket, call 604.684.9872 xt 2440.


OA_show('Leaderboard - incontent article/blog');