Vancouver city council voted unanimously to grant $35,000 to The Centre for a study to measure the feasibility of a badly needed new queer community centre building, Apr 7. Council also voted to renew the community service grant that makes up a portion of The Centre’s regular operating budget.
“We’re very pleased,” says Craig Maynard, board chair of The Centre. “I can’t help but think that a lot of hard work by people from the community really made this thing happen.”
The marathon city services and budgets meeting lasted from 9:30 am on Apr 6 until almost 5:00 am on Apr 7. Some high profile members of the queer community turned out, and in some cases waited hours for their turns, to speak passionately to council about the critical work done by The Centre and the desperate need for a new building. Among them were former NPA city councillor Alan Herbert, former parks commissioners Duncan Wilson and Laura McDiarmid, and Egale Canada regional director and Youthquest board chair Ray Lam.
But some of the most poignant and touching remarks came from those who have relied on The Centre over the years for support and access to the queer community.
“I identify as a lesbian and I came out two-and-a-half years ago,” 17-year-old Amanda Kay fearlessly told the room full of seasoned politicians. “I’m in Grade 12. I got thrown down a flight of stairs. I got beat up in a locker room. I got told that I was useless and that there was no point in my being here because I’m gay. I had nowhere else to turn to. My family was not supportive and my friends didn’t understand. My last hope was to find other people like me. I found GAB Youth Services [at The Centre] and they saved my life. I would have killed myself.”
“You are doing remarkably well. It’s quite amazing,” councillor Tim Stevenson, who lobbied the former council for a feasibility study grant last year, told Kay. “You should be very proud of yourself. Obviously you’re speaking for a lot of young people who can’t do that yet.”
Although Stevenson is disappointed with many of the final budget decisions made by the NPA caucus-including the elimination of the city’s child and youth advocate, cuts to promised funding for the arts, and cuts to funding for the city’s climate control commitments-he is happy The Centre will get its grant.
“I think it’s tremendous the way the community responded,” he says. “The councillors were convinced. On top of that, The Centre did what they had to do. They worked very hard to make sure every councillor was called, not just once but several times… Albeit that was really important for our community, there were horrendous cuts.”
Maynard credits Stevenson for getting the feasibility study grant rolling last year and helping along the way. He also credits the hundreds of people who sent e-mails to city councillors urging them to support the grant.
“We don’t know who they all are,” he says, “but we know, just by gauging our traffic on our website, we’re pretty confident that it made a difference.”
On Mar 23, when The Centre’s executive director, Donna Wilson, presented council with The Centre’s long-awaited plan for how the feasibility study money would be spent, it didn’t look like the grant would be approved. The NPA-dominated council was faced with a $29.2-million budget shortfall and city staff’s initial budget policy designated the feasibility study a low priority.
When Xtra West asked then-mayoral candidate, now mayor, Sam Sullivan about a new building for The Centre during last year’s civic election campaign, he said he would vote to support staff policy recommendations.
“I will tell you it’s a personal issue for me. I believe [The Centre] should be accessible. I have suffered and my family has suffered as a result of it not being accessible. So certainly, on a personal level, I will do what I can to make sure it is accessible. I will do everything I can within policy… The key thing with me is, no matter how many people come and shout at me, no matter what names they call me, I will support the policy.”
But the words of the speakers, Apr 6, and the e-mails and lobbying efforts from the queer community swayed the six NPA councillors to vote against staff policy in this instance, and to vote for The Centre’s feasibility study grant. Council didn’t even debate the issue publicly. Instead, NPA councillor Peter Ladner tabled a series of budget recommendations for debate, among them were that council grant the money for the feasibility study.
“It has not been an easy process for us to get this far in the caucus group of the NPA on whose behalf I’m making these recommendations,” he said. “We had disagreement on a number of these items and I know there will be different opinions from around council.”
Now that the feasibility study grant has been approved, Maynard says: “The next step is that the board of directors will be calling on community leaders to come together to give general direction to the feasibility study authors. We’ll do that process between now and the fall. Hopefully we’ll get a report, hopefully by the end of the year.”