When I walked into Pulse on Jul 9 for our town hall on a new community centre, I didn’t know what to expect. Would anyone show up? Would anyone care enough to come brainstorm together?
I needn’t have worried. The place was packed by 7:15 pm and the crowd was engaged.
We split the room into tables and encouraged friends and strangers to dream together, to dare to envision a community gathering space where they would actually like to gather.
The answers were nothing short of inspiring.
A community centre should be a place of celebration, they said, a place to express ourselves on stage and on screen and simply in conversation. A place to hang out and socialize. A place to discover and connect with our roots as a community, to share our stories and display our archives. A place to be ourselves, among friends and family.
The youth table shared its ideas first, suggesting everything from a theatre and a gym to an art gallery and a portrait collection of pioneering queers. They called for a youth wing, sex-positive space, a dungeon, a café, a library, a clinic, office and conference space and counselling services.
The next table echoed many of those suggestions and added a few of their own like a living room, a seniors centre, a meditation centre and daycare services. Others added recreational space, a crisis line and life skills training, a community garden and possibly a basketball court.
Over and over again, the participants called for more than simply support programs and services. They called for a space in which they could gather, socialize and celebrate who we are as a community and all the things we share.
The purpose of the meeting was not to challenge the programs already offered by Qmunity (formerly The Centre) nor to seem ungrateful to the hard-working staff and volunteers who keep them alive. I think I speak for many when I say the support they provide is essential to building the kind of community I want to live in.
The purpose of our town hall was to dream beyond those programs and envision a full-service centre where Qmunity’s services are just one component of many. It was to shake off the restraints of excessive caution that have held us back for too long, and envision a centre relevant to those of us who don’t need help but simply want to gather in queer space.
The funny thing is, many of the ideas presented at our town hall were not new. The Centre’s own feasibility study yielded a similar wish list two years ago. Seems people were asking for a performance space, archives and a community café then too.
Only that wish list has yet to be acted upon.
According to Jim Deva, who participated in The Centre’s wish list assessment, the consultant on the project advised Qmunity’s directors to shelve the expensive dreams and stick to its core programs.
But if last week’s town hall is any indication, many community members don’t want to shelve the celebratory spaces and aim for something mediocre. They want a multi-purpose facility. So do I.
The question is: how do we get there?
Qmunity’s executive director Jennifer Breakspear told the town hall that her organization is “not holding this back, my friends, we’re ready to go.”
“You want to talk about dreams? I’ve got dreams and some of them involve gatherings just like this with groups of people just like this lining up and putting their names on a list and saying, ‘I will go to meetings. I will dream big with you,’” she said.
“I will go there with you. And my board of directors will go there with you. And we will build this community centre together,” she promised.
“It’s got to be a community initiative,” she added, “and I believe it has got to also involve Qmunity.”
I’m relieved to hear that Qmunity has no intention of holding this project back. I agree wholeheartedly that this is a community initiative and that Qmunity should be involved. I would totally support their inclusion in a new federation of community groups unafraid of reaching for the multi-purpose facility of our wish lists. The time has come for all of us to dream big together.