Vancouver city council voted almost unanimously in favour of creating a gay advisory committee, Feb 17. Only Suzanne Anton, the Non-Partisan Association’s (NPA) lone voice on council since last November’s civic election, opposed the motion.
“I’m really thrilled about it,” says gay city councillor Tim Stevenson, who introduced a similar motion three years ago only to see it shut down by the then-NPA dominated council.
“This is something I’ve been concerned about the whole time I’ve been on council,” says Stevenson, who sits with Vision Vancouver. “I tried to move this along last term when the NPA were in, but they wouldn’t have any part of it.”
The creation of an advisory committee dedicated specifically to queer issues was just one component of the motion passed last week, which will see council’s existing diversity committee separated into five groups: one for the gay community, one each for women’s and multicultural issues, one for seniors and one for people with disabilities.
Each committee will advise city council and staff about issues concerning their respective communities.
In opposing the motion, Anton raised concerns about putting people “in silos” and the viability of maintaining separate committees.
She also told council she felt the diversity committee had already achieved its goals and “dealt with the issues common to all types of people.”
Stevenson says he’s not surprised that Anton opposed the motion since she also voted against his motion to create a gay advisory committee in 2006.
“It’s typical of [the NPA’s] attitude and why there has not been anything from our community come to the foreground the last three years,” Stevenson told Xtra West after the council meeting. “It’s absolutely typical of the way they’ve been on anything affecting our community.”
“With a city as diverse as Vancouver, it’s about time we had a citizens’ committee that listens to and reflects the LGBTQ community,” says Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.
“Councillor Tim Stevenson introduced a motion last term to create one and the NPA voted it down. I’ve promised to open up City Hall to the people, and creating this committee is a key part of that commitment,” Robertson says.
Though the motion ultimately passed easily despite Anton’s objections, lesbian councillor Ellen Woodsworth finds it troubling that anyone would need to be convinced of the importance of an LGBTQ advisory committee.
“I find it difficult to understand how, in the year 2009, when we’ve seen people get beaten up, when Aaron Webster’s killer has come out after a very, very short time in jail, when the Anglican church is splitting over the rights of marriage, where we’ve got a very Conservative Prime Minister, that people don’t understand there’s still extreme prejudice in this world,” Woodsworth says.
It’s important to foster citizen advisory committees in a democracy, she continues.
“We think advisory committees are an amazing way to draw on the skills, resources, and wisdom of the public. It’s a very different political approach — one is a very democratic approach where you engage the city, and the other is where you just shut it down.
“It’s really sad that people don’t understand how much valuable energy volunteers pour into the city with these advisory committees,” Woodsworth adds. “Why wouldn’t you want that expert advice?”
Woodsworth cites the recent dispute over the Abbotsford School Board’s decision to pull the Social Justice 12 course last fall as further evidence that gay communities need stronger voices on municipal decision-making bodies.
“Despite the liberties we enjoy in Vancouver — and as a lesbian I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the world — we’re still subject to really serious prejudice,” Woodsworth says. “It’s well known by people, and yet they don’t understand why we would want to have a committee that examines some of these issues.”
The gay community needs its own committee because it “needs to be in direct dialogue with council about things like police, bashing, what Davie St is going to look like over the next several years, transgender issues — a large number of issues that really should have representation,” Stevenson said three years ago when he first introduced the motion.
Woodsworth says she’s eager to see Vancouver city council’s new gay advisory committee come together, and is curious about what issues the group might bring forward first.
Addressing prominent examples of intolerance, such as the recent string of reported gaybashings, might feature among people’s primary concerns, she speculates.