A photo of two gay men featured on a plaque near Milestones restaurant on Denman Street has been vandalized.
Roger Chin, who is pictured in the photo along with his husband, Jim VanDeventer, says someone thoroughly covered the plaque in white paint in what seemed “like a professional job” — “premeditated” rather than a spur-of-the-moment act of vandalism. He says the paint appeared to be rolled on.
“It’s almost a neat excision,” Chin says. He says the whitewash job gives the impression that whoever did it was saying, ‘We don’t want to see this.’”
Chin, who estimates that the plaque has been in that state for about a month, learned about its defacement from a friend during the holiday season. Chin, who lives in Duncan, saw the damage firsthand in early January.
One of the first thoughts he had on seeing the damage was, “Why us?”
That such an act can be committed in Vancouver raises questions about how gay-friendly the city really is, he suggests. “I think there are factions that are very conservative,” he says, citing the high-profile gaybashing at the Fountainhead Pub in 2009 that has left Ritchie Dowrey permanently incapacitated and the resistance of former school board trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo to the Vancouver School Board’s recent transgender policy.
The plaque, one of eight originally installed on lampposts in the West End, Chinatown, on Commercial Drive and Granville Street in 2011, is part of Out on Screen’s multimedia Celebrate Queer Vancouver project, which marked the city’s 125th anniversary.
Prior to the installation of the plaques that feature portraits of community members’ chosen families, Amber Dawn, former program director at Out on Screen, told Xtra that the project, funded by all three levels of government, is a “learning moment” for the general public and an opportunity for the LGBT community to have greater visibility.
“Representation is a powerful tool in generating discussions,” she said, adding that she hoped the plaques would generate more discussion.
Chin, who says he was able to scratch some of the paint off the plaque easily, says he doesn’t know whether the city will remove the paint or just replace the plaque. He says he intends to contact both the city and the police.
Sergeant Randy Fincham of the Vancouver police says the plaque is city property and, as such, the city is a victim of a criminal offence in this case.
“The criminal offence would be mischief — so, damaging property, defacing property, acts of graffiti,” Fincham says. “Once reported to the police by the owner of that property, then that would be investigated.”
Fincham says there is a graffiti task force within the police department that is dedicated to working on such incidents and trying to identify people who are doing the damage and any other related damage in the area.
Fincham says that no one had reported the defaced plaque but that he spoke to the city Jan 12 and received a message saying a crew had been dispatched to remove the paint.
The city’s cultural services managing director, Richard Newirth, emailed Xtra within a few hours to say that the paint had been removed from the plaque. “As you can see, when anything like this is brought to our attention, we try to remedy the situation as quickly as possible,” he said.
Asked about the possibility of charges, Fincham says it would be up to the city to report it. “When the city does report it through 9-1-1, then we’ll have our officers investigate it,” Fincham says.
There is no word yet whether the city intends to report the incident to police for investigation.
Chin says that while he is surprised that a cosmopolitan city like Vancouver still sees incidents targeting gay people, the climate seems to be changing as more people notice and respond. “I guess that’s the silver lining.”
The idea behind the plaques is to raise awareness, he notes. “I think this is, in some ways, an opportunity to raise awareness again, to renew what the Chosen Family portrait series was about, to realize that these are our families that we have formed because our blood relatives often disown us.”
Chin, who is a teacher, says he is a strong supporter of sharing the community’s stories. “It’s a great way to educate.”