3 min

Build me a home

Vancouver needs a shiny new queer community centre

Credit: Xtra West files

Forty short years ago this summer, the RCMP questioned Everett George Klippert, a mechanic’s assistant from Saskatchewan, in connection with an arson investigation while he was working in Pine Point Northwest Territories.

Although Klippert had nothing to do with any fires, he did admit under coercive questioning to regular sex with other men.

He pleaded guilty to four counts of gross indecency and was convicted on the sole basis of his own admission. He was sentenced to three years in prison. It was not the first time he’d served time for being gay.

After a short time in the clink, Klippert was declared a dangerous sexual offender.

Klippert was a garden-variety homo just like me whose supposed and bogus crime was to admit that he liked having sex with men, that he didn’t see anything wrong with it and that he was likely to do it again once he got out of jail.

After much legal wrangling all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, Klippert was eventually released from prison.

I, for one, am thankful that battle is over. If it weren’t, I’d likely either be in prison today or hopelessly repressed.

Also 40 years ago this summer, the Association for Social Knowledge (ASK), Canada’s first gay social organization, was in its infancy. It was a group of Vancouver queer people who, among other noble goals, wanted to build a community centre. It was to be a safe place for queer people to interact, gather and learn about each other.

ASK managed to open Canada’s first queer community centre here in Vancouver on New Year’s Eve 1966. It didn’t last very long, but it was a first.

Forty years later, Vancouver still doesn’t have an adequate building for its queer community centre.

There are lots of community centres in the city. I even visited one with a very impressive train set. The closest we have to a dedicated queer community centre is The Centre at Bute and Davie Sts. It’s been in operation since the mid-1970s. During this time, its staff and volunteers have been quietly doing amazing work for the benefit of queer people everywhere, often with very few resources.

The Centre’s current location is tiny and accessible only by a steep and narrow staircase. It conducts many of its programs in off-site venues, but it’s long past time The Centre had a new home base.

The staff has a great plan in place for building that new home. It will take about $5 million and could well be a new building in the current location.

A new community centre at Bute and Davie will add a whole new dimension to the Village and really strengthen the heart of our community. The money could come from a number of sources, among them a $1.5 million capital campaign.

While $5 million might as well be $5 trillion for most of us individually, surely working together we can successfully raise the money to bring this project to fruition.

It’s been 40 years. It’s time we came together to get this building built.

Queer community is certainly about more than bricks and mortar, but a queer village with dedicated buildings and the visible symbolic trappings of our sexual diversity (like rainbow-flag-adorned streets and bustling queer businesses) makes us visible to visitors and newcomers.

It gives anyone who is interested a place to meet queer people. For those about to come out it represents the closet door-a place of experimentation and validation. It’s a place of fun and community. It’s a place of commerce and prosperity and it’s a place of strength in times of trouble.

It should be cherished, nurtured and defended against those who would minimize it or wash it away.

I’ve recently adopted Vancouver as my new home and even though I’ve only lived here a short time, a few things have popped out at me. Among them are a sea of cherry blossoms, many wonderful people, some very hot men and the need for a shiny new queer community centre.

I look forward to contributing to Xtra West and Vancouver’s queer community, and I’m delighted to be here.

* Matt Mills is the new editor/staff reporter at Xtra West.