Janine Fuller was one of the first people I met when I moved to Vancouver and started as Xtra West’s staff reporter in 2001. I remember I had just graduated from journalism school in Halifax and I was new in town, so my editor sent me off to meet some of our community’s key builders and pioneers.
I remember walking into Little Sister’s for our coffee date all nervous — nervous to meet this woman who had stood up to Canada Customs, nervous to face this woman who had the courage to challenge the government’s censorship of our stories, who had the courage to be out and proud in the 1980s and 90s, who braved bombs to champion our stories and our freedom to express them — all the while putting a public face to gay and lesbian lives, and winning hearts and minds of allies across the continent.
I was nervous as I walked into the bookstore for the very first time. But I needn’t have worried. I walked up to the cash, and before I could even introduce myself, she smiled at me and said something like, “You must be Robin. I remember when you called me last year to interview me. Ready for coffee?”
I was stunned. Yes, I had interviewed her briefly over the phone for a story in journalism school, but it was just a class assignment (though even then I took every opportunity to queer my assignments). But I never imagined she’d remember me. I even wondered if she was somehow putting me on.
But I don’t think she was. What I quickly came to learn about Janine Fuller is that, in addition to the public battles she waged on our community’s behalf, she also helped build our community in a very real way, day after day in the bookstore. She knew everyone and greeted us by name. She was den mother to a very large, and very grateful, den.
She helped so many of us feel welcome, and valued.
Which is why it’s so essential that we value her today. Especially now.
Janine is fighting a different battle now, with her health. As she will probably tell you, she has Huntington’s, which is an inherited brain disorder that affects movement, coordination, emotions and memory, and can make it difficult to focus, and to speak.
Which makes it that much more important to honour her contributions and to ensure that she always feels valued, remembered, and welcome — included in our community’s ongoing story, not forgotten.
It can be too easy to accidentally forget our pioneers when they’re no longer in the public eye as they once were. Let’s not do that here.
This award is for Janine and the many, many people she welcomed along the way, the many people she empowered on their coming out journeys and in their daily lives, the community centre feel that she helped create at Little Sister’s, and of course the stories that she championed and the freedoms that she defended and demanded for all of us.
This is for Janine, the woman who helped welcome me.
Please welcome Janine Fuller, a hero to many of us for many years, and now BOLD Woman of the Year.
With this speech, Robin Perelle presented Janine Fuller with the BOLD Woman of the Year Award on Sept 2, 2016, at the BOLD festival for older lesbians and dykes in Vancouver. Robin Perelle is the editorial director at Daily Xtra.