Gerry LePage says he is fed up with being labelled a homophobe.
The admission came in an unusually candid interview with LePage, a type-A marketing executive who avoids media interviews, shortly before the Bank St Business Improvement Area’s annual general meeting May 12.
LePage, the BIA’s executive director, says he accepts that his job comes with public scrutiny. But he says that people have branded him a homophobe, and the name-calling hurt because he has gay relatives with whom he is close. He says some of his son’s friends have even asked, “Is your dad a homophobe?”
“I’ve never been so hurt in 25 years of professional life. It’s been the biggest pain in the ass. It’s repugnant. When you start degenerating to a personal level. . . Well, I’m not going to the table with that,” LePage says.
As BIA executive director, LePage says he does not have the authority to tell the Village committee it can have the rainbow-designated street signs it wants on Bank St — it would require board approval — and he says the board isn’t going to agree to it in the near future.
Until the day comes when people can officially call part of Bank St gay community turf, LePage says nothing is stopping people from using the street for gay and lesbian community festivals and events — or from putting up rainbow flags and decals on storefronts.
“The BIA cannot brand Bank St for [the Village.] The area has to brand the street itself,” says LePage.
Over the years, there have been many surveys done to ask whether there should be a Village on Bank St. A 2003 BIA survey on the issue found that 88 percent of its respondents favoured a rainbow district. In 2005, Xtra asked LePage for a copy of those results and he declined to provide it. But he says the reliability of that survey was doubtful.
“We analyzed the surveys and found out why we had anomalies. The surveyors wasn’t asking the same kind of people. One person interviewed had been there for three months. Another time a manager had been asked. At another shop, an owner was asked. You had this whole variety of answers. The most recent survey was the most extensive survey yet; 155 people were interviewed. The person had to be at the store at least three years. They had to be a manager or owner. People knew the area. As soon as there was an intonation in their answers, they were disqualified,” says LePage.
The BIA’s recent $48,000, 34-page survey was based on opinions from 76 Bank St business owners and managers. It found 39 were opposed and 14 wanted the section of Bank St from Nepean to James streets designated a gay village. But 23 businesses claimed indifference, and Councillor Diane Holmes has said a residential survey will have to be done to resolve the issue. LePage says the gay community does not need the BIA’s approval to make a Village. If people want it enough, they should just do it.
“The Village is happening. It’s already evolving. I don’t know what this notion is it needs approval to get off the ground. It’s happening as we speak. You can see it in the flags. You can see it in the level of cooperation. We need to get together and make this a successful trade area. No one’s trying to deny anyone any rights or area. We’re just saying if you want branding, that’s a self-initiative,” says LePage.
As a kid in the late 1960s, LePage lived in San Francisco and often walked through the Castro district with his parents. Before taking the helm of the BIA 25 years ago, he owned a Bank St restaurant and worked in advertising, with many clients in the fashion industry. In phone interviews, he seems like a cut-and-dried boardroom executive. In person, he looks like a Sinatra-era lounge performer with his booming voice and neat appearance.
But behind LePage’s exasperation there are signs of change at the BIA. At the annual general meeting on May 12, Mel Hartman — the chair of the board for 30 years — stepped down. He will be replaced by Steve Tanner, general manager of the Staples Business Depot on Bank St.
The BIA also has a new face in Kevin Martin, owner of Stroked Ego. Martin will be the BIA’s newly created lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) community liaison.
“I think improving the communication between the two groups is the most important thing to do. I think people can admit, going back and looking at some of Xtra’s articles, there is a challenge in the communication there. I want to get involved with both groups and see how we can move forward together,” says Martin.
As the BIA’s LGBT community liaison, Martin says that if anyone wants any information, they can drop by his store, call him at 613-667-3008 or email email@example.com.