A recent encounter with homophobic harassers on the street and a frustrating call to 911 is apparently headed towards a happy ending.
Ron Stipp and his fiancé, Edward Abbey, were walking down Burrard St towards Pacific at around 9:30 pm on Apr 27, when two young Latino men and a woman approached them and began calling them “fucking faggots.”
“[We] didn’t say a word back to them,” says Stipp, who co-founded West Enders Against Violence Everywhere (WEAVE) in 2003 to help track anti-queer violence in the West End. “They were about 20 or 30 feet away and we both turned around to see who these people [were].”
The taunting soon escalated to threats of violence.
“We’re going to punch you in the face, you faggot,” Stipp alleges they told him.
Then “the girl started sneering at us, and the bigger guy started coming towards us. They [didn’t] scare me too much [but] I thought if this guy wanted to go at it, he was ready to,” Stipp continues.
He and Abbey took out their cell phones and “the guy stopped dead in his tracks. He backed off and ran towards the other two.
“They kept walking away and looking back,” Stipp states. “We just stood there and watched to see where they were going, while my partner was dialling 911.”
But when Abbey reached a 911 operator, he was upset by the dismissive response he received.
“Eddie talked to the operator, described the incident and the guy [said], ‘Why are you calling? Why are you complaining about this? Do you really want to make a report?'” Stipp alleges.
“His tone was extremely dismissive and Eddie was, of course, real agitated, saying, ‘Here is the description. They’re walking down Burrard St. Might be that they’re going down Davie St to start beating on other people.’
“And again [the operator asked], ‘So why are you calling?'” Stipp alleges.
In the end, Stipp and Abbey could only tell the operator where their harassers were heading and hope for the best.
Discouraged, they went home and called the police directly on the non-emergency line. This time, Stipp reached the duty sergeant and told him what happened. “[I] wanted to say that this 911 stuff was just out of line,” he says.
The officer was “excellent,” Stipp emphasizes. He took down the information, asked if Stipp and Abbey were okay and promised to look for their harassers.
Stipp then spoke to a 911 team manager to complain about the treatment they’d received from the first operator. “We basically said, ‘We’re not happy with our treatment; we are going to do something about this.”
Two days later, he got a call from Deborah Cherry, the director of operations at E-Comm, the company that runs the emergency communications centre for southwest British Columbia.
“She said right up front: ‘I want you to know that we are having difficulties with some of our operators. We listened to the tapes and yes, the operator could have been more sympathetic, and could have taken your case and dealt with it more appropriately,'” Stipp recalls.
Jody Robertson, E-Comm’s director of corporate communications, presents a different perspective when contacted several days after the incident.
“In this particular call, the 911 call taker handled the incident per procedure. He handled everything per policy,” she informs Xtra West.
“I think part of the issue was a misunderstanding about what our employee was directing the complainant to do,” Robertson explains. “Nobody was denying response; in fact our employee was asking and encouraging that a police officer come and take their complaint. There was just a miscommunication about where that should have happened, and that is what’s so regretful.”
Robertson goes on to characterize the operator involved as “a senior employee. We have certainly provided some coaching to [him] about being direct, but also taking a complainant’s circumstances into consideration, and reminding them that they need to reassure the complainant, they need to be courteous and calm, and so on and so forth.”
Stipp is not satisfied. “The response that we had on the telephone when we called in a stressful moment was inappropriate,” he maintains. “The 911 operator that we dealt with should have had a little bit of training on issues like this. There’s something wrong with the training, particularly with dealing with our community.”
When questioned about whether 911 operators receive any diversity or sensitivity training, Cherry pauses then tells Xtra West: “We do provide anti-harassment and discrimination training. [It’s] a very formal program that E-Comm implemented last year. It’s for everyone internally and externally that all of our employees engage with, not just our communication operators.”
When asked what specific gay and lesbian content is in the training, Robertson replies: “There is a section, I believe, in the video program that talks about sexuality in general terms.”
“Anti-harassment and discrimination issues aren’t necessarily about isolated groups,” adds Cherry, “so [the training] touches pretty well on everything. It is all about sensitivity to each other internally and externally. And respect.”
Stipp remains optimistic about the incident’s outcome. “In the end [Cherry] said, ‘I really want to meet with you, and your group, so we can talk about this. You can give us suggestions on how to do this better, and we can discuss how we can get along better with your community.'”
“We’re certainly an organization that wants to meet with different community groups and understand concerns and sensitivities,” Robertson affirms. She cannot, however, remember the name of the one multicultural group that E-Comm has met with.
“We’re just so excited about meeting with Ron, to get his ideas, or maybe there’s some literature that we can give to our staff. If we have got work to do, tell us some of the things we can do if there are concerns within the gay community about how we handle calls.”
Stipp welcomes this openness. “I’ve talked with my colleagues from WEAVE. We are going to set up a meeting for later this month. Take her up on her offer to sit down and work towards making E-Comm more responsive to the needs of all communities.”
“We are here to help everybody in the community no matter young, old, the gay community, people with English as a second language; absolutely everybody,” Robertson says.
“The number one positive,” concludes Stipp from his attack, “is that the Vancouver police did a really good job. And the other is that E-Comm is willing to talk to us.”