Vancouver
4 min

Bubbles of love

Gay demonstraters tell religious 'we love you'

Some 1400 queers sent a message of love and tolerance at an Aug 16 demonstration.



They were at the downtown law courts to counter an anti-gay rights demonstration organized by conservative Christians and members of other minority religions.



In the second largest gay demonstration in local gay history, approximately 600 queers met at Little Sister’s to make placards starting at 8:30 am, then marched down the sidewalk to the steps of the court at Hornby and Nelson streets. There, they joined up with another estimated 800 gays and lesbians who had staked out demonstration space.



“Don’t engage” the religious protestors, queer activist Craig Maynard told the crowd before the march left Little Sister’s. “We’re here to have fun with our families. Kissing is encouraged, as is singing and blowing bubbles. We’re here to show the very best of our community.”



Humour carried the day among the cheerful gay demonstrators. Placards included: Love has no Boundaries; Focus on your own damn Family; I Love my Gay Dad and Love the Homophobe, Hate their Sin. Some blew bubbles toward the demonstrators.



In contrast the religious protestors carried mainly mass-produced signs. Some promoted the Christian Heritage Party, others equated Bill C-250, Svend Robinson’s private member’s bill extending hate protection to gays, with oppression and persecution. One sign said: Paul Martin-Keep your Promise, support traditional families. Another read: Invoke the Nothwithstanding Clause to Protect Traditional Marriage.



Dozens of police created a 20′ barrier between the two demonstrations, hoping to avoid a repeat of a 1997 clash between gays and fundamentalists at Robson Square. Gays were portrayed in local media as intolerant of free-speech rights of Christians after that rally.



At Saturday’s march, gays chanted “We love you” to the religious protestors. And they sang the Canadian national anthem, along with the lyrics to “Going to the chapel.” Crepe paper in the colours of the rainbow was run from the street to the top of the steps, intertwining through the crowd.



“I was over the other side,” said Tim Chisholm, DJ at the Dufferin. “I told them the gays have much nicer signs than yours and they sing better, too.”



After a half-hour, police moved the religious protestors from the corner, directing them to demonstrate on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery. They left peacefully but solemnly. Attempts to interview individual protestors were shut down by organizers who noted that only one person could speak for the crowd of 4,000-K John Cheung, who was not available for interviews. The Catholic Church organized the rally through the Canadian Alliance for Social Justice and Family Values Association.



Kok Kian Ng was at his first demonstration since arriving in Canada as a gay refugee claimant from Singapore. “I’m taking part because where I’m from this could never happen,” he said before marching from Little Sister’s. “Sex between men is still illegal in Singapore.”



The demonstrators are “hypocritical” in claiming they speak for family values, says Ng, 31. “Isn’t love a family value, too?”



When later interviewed at the site of the counter-demonstration, Ng said he’d been shocked to arrive and discover that over 90 percent of anti-gay rights demonstrators were Asian.



“I’m concerned it will leave the impression that all Asians are narrow-minded and intolerant, which is not true. I felt ashamed. We need to reach out and talk to them and let them know we’re just like them. They need to know that gay rights are human rights.”



MP Svend Robinson referred to the ethnic composition of the majority of protestors when addressing the rally. “Our Canada celebrates diversity,” he said to loud applause. “You cannot turn back time and cannot turn back equality.” Referring to Canada’s longstanding anti-Asian tax and immigration policies, he said, “Today we appeal to our brothers and sisters in Chinese-Canadian community and other minority communities to understand that basic equality rights are not put to a referendum. It is just as wrong to promote hate and violence on the basis of sexual orientation” as on basis of race or religion.



March organizers Jim Deva and Vince Marino were impressed by the “amazing crowd of people.” Deva began organizing the march after waking up that Wednesday to the realization that conservative local churches were leaning on congregations to participate in a West End demonstration to protest “judicial activism”, Robinson’s Bill C-250 and gay marriage rights.



“I realized we just had to be there. We couldn’t let them be unchallenged.”



The gay demonstration was organized mainly through emails and postering Davie St.



Insp Dave Jones, the West End’s top cop and the police force specialist in demonstrations, called Deva and Marino to police headquarters Thursday, where they faced a long table surrounded by uniformed police. The cops wanted Deva to cancel the march, or alternatively move it to the VAG steps and leave the court space to the religious protestors.



Deva and Marino refused, noting that emails had already gone out and that the community will protest where it chooses.



“I assured them we are a peaceful and loving community. We’re not going to provoke confrontation,” says Deva.



Janine Fuller hosted the rally from the steps of the courthouse-Fuller stepped in at the last moment when co-organizer barbara findlay took sick. Demonstrators twice interrupted Fuller to insist on a confrontation with the religious demonstrators at the art gallery.



Fuller replied that the gay rally was a celebration of our lives and community rather than a confrontation. “We are not following the Christians. We’re doing our duty here. Blow love and bubbles to celebrate who and what we are.”



Deva told the crowd that the Robinson’s anti-hate bill and gay marriage are both in trouble in Parliament. He called on the community to contact their MPs to support the issues. “If you want to be a warrior, be a warrior on the Internet, on the phone, by writing a letter. We don’t need to be a warrior on the street.”



He later said that a direct confrontation with the religious protestors would have been the wrong strategy.



“I don’t think it would do the movement any good. If people need that confrontation, they should go to the gym and hit a ball.”



After the gay rally broke up, a group of approximately 100 moved on to protest the religious rally. Police kept them behind a barricade on Robson St.



A member of a Hindu congregation told the religious demonstrators that marriage between a man and a woman was a gift given by God.



Another visible minority speaker said that “democracy belongs to the people.”



Another speaker said that the “so-called rights of certain minorities” were increasingly putting religious freedom at risk.



* For more on marriage and Bill-250, see www.egale.ca