By all accounts, it was the best Heroes ever, and I’m not just saying that.
The 2008 Xtra West Community Achievement Awards drew a full house to the Majestic Lounge May 11, for an energetic evening of fun, diverse performances and powerful speeches.
Readers cast their ballots in March to nominate their community heroes and recognize their contributions. Our inaugural community judging panel then poured over the nominations, shortlisted the finalists and selected the winners in each category, guided by the community’s votes and our own fierce debates. (Okay, maybe not so fierce. But there were certainly vigorous discussions over pizza.)
In the end, 11 trophies (plus a special one to honour Jane Rule’s eternal flame) were engraved and 11 heroes called to the stage to accept our community’s thanks.
I would like to thank the members of the community judging panel for the time, energy and commitment they invested in this year’s celebration. Their contributions confirmed the importance and benefits of reaching outside our usual spheres to work together to honour community. Thank you Drew Dennis, Janine Fuller, Spencer Herbert, Michael Harris and Michael V Smith.
Now here are some excerpts from what your Heroes had to say:
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Jim Deva & Bruce Smyth
Thank you very much. This last week has been phenomenal for us and for the store. This has been a magic trip; 25 years, it’s really hard to believe that we’ve been around that long and doing what we do for that long.
It’s been an experience that — well, it’s been our life. Bruce and I do very little alone, other than have a very happy life, 35 years together. But our store has never been just about Bruce and myself. It has been about the wonderful people that we work with; they have very much been what our store is about. We know that and we really appreciate that.
The people that we work with are our family and they’re very dear and they’re very sweet to us. And it has been a wonderful, wonderful trip with them.
We have been blessed. We were at the right place at the right time and our community supported us from the moment we opened our little rickety bookstore, up those stairs those many years ago.
The community has always been there, and it’s been growing and changing. And to see so many people here tonight is reassuring that it will go on, and that our community will change and grow and support each other and move forward…
For us to be in the middle of this vibrant and wonderful and changing community for all of these years has been a true and deep blessing and we are very grateful.
I guess one of the last things that we will be doing, and maybe one of the most challenging things that we will be doing, is trying to pass our business on to new people.
I just want to assure all of you that the reason that we went very public with our decision to do this is because we are so much a part of the community. We are not a business; we are a part of this community. We have always had the ability to bring the right people in at the right time to do the right thing, and I think that that is going to happen. It has not happened yet but in the future I believe it will happen.
I just want to assure you all that we are not going to just run. We are going to make sure that the business goes to the right people and that it continues. Because I think a vibrant bookstore is a very, very important component [of the community].
Thank you very much to Xtra West, to all of you. We will be here for some time, and [we will] do the right thing.
VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR
I just want to say thank you because this is really unnecessary. Out on Screen is the funnest, most inspiring place in the world to volunteer. So I really don’t think that I need to get an award for doing something so fun.
COMMUNITY GROUP OF THE YEAR
I really didn’t expect this! I haven’t a clue what to say.
I’d like to thank my mom, for making me a lesbian…
This year was really historic for us because of the struggle around the Balwant Singh Gill fiasco, which some of you might have read about in Xtra. I want to thank Xtra for covering the issue and giving us a chance to talk about the homophobia that we’re dealing with in our community, as well as the racism that we deal with in our community.
I think this is the beginning of kicking a lot of ass, and having a lot of fun and coming together. So thank you.
STRAIGHT ALLY OF THE YEAR
Carol & Dick Grier
This is beautiful and wow — thank you all so much.
I have to say, it feels a little weird to me to be standing here and getting a really cool trophy like this for doing the right thing.
I would also like to thank our community of Salt Spring Island because we would not be up accepting this award unless there were other folks on Salt Spring Island that, when we leapt, they joined us.
YOUTH ACTIVIST OF THE YEAR
I want to start first by thanking Xtra West and the judges for giving me this award. But for my opinion, this award is not just for me. I’m merely a representative for all the GSAs across Vancouver and other parts of the country…
One of the reasons that prompted me to become a youth activist in the sort of gay capacity is that they [my parents] taught me that love doesn’t comes in ways but in degrees. It’s really about how much you love the person but not the way you love the person. I just really wish that we could extend this love to everyone. When that happens, there’s no judgment, there’s no hate, there’s just friendship.
As for the GSAs, I’m really compelled to have the GSAs in the schools because it not only helps people, but it also helps try to change other people’s minds.
I think it’s important to bring [the GSAs] together so that there’s support within the support groups. Hopefully it [the Gay-Straight Alliance Crew] will get its momentum and continue to flourish in the future, and I hope that I’ll be able to see that and continue to support the gay youth culture in Vancouver.
VISUAL ARTIST OF THE YEAR
I just want to say you guys really, really have been completely behind me so much and [supported] my film. I never, ever expected it to play in places like Romania, Hungary, Cyprus, Ecuador. And more importantly, my Tupperware-selling, guilty Catholic mother went down to the Miami gay and lesbian film festival and presented the film there.
I just want to say that because of the love that I found in the community here, it really, really helped. So thank you guys so much.
SPECIAL TRIBUTE TO JANE RULE, POSTHUMOUSLY
(accepted by Jane’s friend Shelagh Day, who could not attend but sent a thank you letter, below)
Thank you to Xtra West for honouring Jane Rule with this special trophy and for renaming Xtra West’s annual writer’s award the Jane Rule Memorial Writer of the Year Award.
This is a wonderful way to keep her spirit alive among us, and to remind the younger members of our community to read Jane’s books — which are all still in print!
Jane made so many contributions, and fostered so many younger writers…
Jane loved to write. It was a passion. This is what she wrote about her first experiences of writing:
Though I wasn’t much of a reader, preferring more active occupations in my free time, though my spelling was bad and my handwriting worse, I did like to write. Moving about so much [as a child in a military family] had made me a letter writer early, and my grandmother encouraged the habit by sending a dollar every time I wrote to her. My father, sympathetic to the problems of my left-handedness, bought me a typewriter and said, “To hell with them! Use both hands.” So I enjoyed the weekly free writing we were required to do, finding topics wherever I looked. I remember one assignment was to write from the quotation, “I am a part of all that I have met.” It seemed to me that I could go on writing forever.
In our lifetimes, Jane is an important part of all that we have met. This award will keep her a part of us, and it will encourage those who are writers to remember her curiosity, generosity and willingness to question convention.
DRAG QUEEN/KING OF THE YEAR
The talent that we have in this city — and I know I’m going to miss somebody but there’s Joan-E, there’s Mandy, there’s Willie, there’s Vera, there’s Carlotta, there’s Vivian Von BrokenHymen, there’s my sister Robyn Graves — we have the best talent in this city. If you go anywhere else, the girls do one or two numbers, one or two characters. But in this city we do it all. And I share this award with all of my drag sisters. Thank you all.
BUSINESS CITIZEN OF THE YEAR
We’re so honoured that we were nominated again this year. I’d just like to thank the incredible and talented people that work at Rhizome, and the many of you that give constant support and encouragement and love that make Rhizome a beautiful place for us all to be.
It’s two years ago that we were envisioning this place that we thought would be a community space and a space to support social justice work. And in the two years we’ve been open, so many of you have contributed your talent and your passion and your anger and your dignity and your art. Elders and youth and people involved in so many different struggles that are part of our queer communities and our justice communities.
So thank you for that. It’s more than we ever could have dreamed it would be.
JANE RULE MEMORIAL WRITER OF THE YEAR
To have the name of the award changed and to be the first one added to the list… And it was just amazing to have my name next to Stan Persky.
When I tell people that I moved back to Vancouver from San Francisco, they always want to know “what the hell did you do that for?” Back in 2001, I was still living in SF and doing research on a book that has yet to be published but I had the opportunity to go to the library and flip through every copy of Angles and Xtra West that had been published. It was an amazing, moving experience and it was a bonding experience. It really made me want to move back here…
I can’t leave here without saying something about HIV. I write a column about HIV. It’s not the best, funnest topic. I try to do my best to make it as funny as I can. But if there’s anything that I do want people to come away with is that I’m not ashamed to be HIV and I don’t think anyone should be ashamed to be HIV.
I think there’s this growing misconception that HIV’s an airborne disease and you can get it through email. Back in the day, we prayed for a day when HIV would be a manageable disease. That day is here and we’re still being vilified and it’s got to change.
This is what HIV looks like in 2008. And people have to start learning how to deal with it in a more civilized way.
I’ve served this community as a waiter, as a barrista and now as a columnist and just let me say it’s been a privilege and an honour. Thank you so much.
LIVE PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR
Get Off the Cross, Mary
Thank you so much. Thank you first to the cast, and to Xtra West, and to the Vancouver queer community. You supported us and you came to the show, and we couldn’t ask any more from you. I love you all!
COMMUNITY HERO OF THE YEAR
I was thinking if you sort of deduct all the volunteer hours I’ve put in; if you deduct all the dollars that I fundraised for; if you take away those really fancy and lovely descriptive words that Xtra West uses for me like ‘boundary-pushing’ and ‘alternative community creating;’ if you put aside that I’m sort of a champion of survivors and underdogs for the queer community and I hope to continue to be that — what I’m really best known for is my ass and titties.
And so when [Xtra West Managing Editor] Robin called to tell me the great news that I had been nominated, I really thought to myself ‘can ass and titties be heroic?’
When my mother was a girl — and happy Mother’s Day to her — she was taught to go to bed with her arms above the covers so that she wouldn’t accidentally touch herself as she sleeps and thus sin against God. When I was told this story by my mother I thought, ‘How unfair is that to have shame laid right on top of your body?”
I understand that sometimes being queer inherently means being a survivor of shame…
I definitely know very well that most of my achievements — which I am very gratefully being honoured for here today — I won’t ever be able to share with my Italian Catholic family. I understand that shame for us lurks everywhere, but it’s not going to live here.
I flat-out refuse to let shame burden my body and by offering me this award, I feel like this community has chosen to also say that you all refuse to let shame live on our bodies and in our hearts.
And I think that if there is one thing that we are ongoingly successful at, it is loving ourselves. The queer community is full of heroes that every day work to love themselves.
And I really do believe that self-love — whether it’s me prancing around in nothing but six-inch stiletto heels or something perhaps a little bit more private — really can create social change.
And I think that my ass and titties have a lot to say about dignity and social justice and taking action, and I hope that my ass and titties can serve you all for years to come.
Video highlights from the event: