By the time Darryl Warren took his turn at the microphone at a packed anti-violence forum in the gay village May 2, he wanted explicit commitments from the gathered politicians, the police and the gay community itself about what they were going to do to combat homophobic violence.
“Since I’ve moved here, all I’ve been hearing is people asking for [the] police presence to be obvious. When are we going to actually see the presence?” Warren demanded.
“And not just on the Friday and the Saturday, but how about those late nights on a Tuesday or Wednesday, when there’s no one around, no witnesses? That’s the time when we’re vulnerable,” Warren pointed out.
“I see police in droves on Granville St. We pay taxes, too,” he added, pointedly.
“I really respect the authority of the officers here,” Warren said, “but presentation is just that. It’s nothing; it’s a presentation. And we need to actually start seeing our requests being met. Am I wrong to ask for that?” he asked the crowd.
“No,” a few people quietly replied.
Warren said he’s aware of the resource constraints the police are up against as they confront gang and drug activity but told the community gathering at Pulse Nightclub that he expected “more than lip service.”
He also had a few choice words for the queer community itself.
If we want protection, he told the crowd, “We have to get involved, too.”
Warren referred to the Apr 5 West End rally against homophobic violence and in solidarity with Ritchie Dowrey, who was gaybashed at the Fountainhead just under two months ago and remains barely lucid in Vancouver General Hospital.
“I went to a rally — that last rally — and the best way to sum it up is we stood in unison not talking to each other,” he said. “We have so many groups against us, for just existing, and what do we do amongst ourselves?” he asked.
“If we want to be a community, we better start acting like one,” Warren emphasized.
“Let’s get off our asses and start getting political and start getting involved and start showing we mean business, or everything we hold dear will slip right through our fingers,” Warren urged the crowd to sustained applause.
Warren also issued a challenge to Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who attended the forum hosted by West Enders Against Violence Everywhere (WEAVE) that drew about 60 people.
“I think we all need you to get a little more public. Can you do that?” Warren asked. “A press conference doesn’t take more than 30 seconds or a minute. Can you give us that assurance that any time [there is] the slightest provocation in our community, that you can step up and represent for us?” Warren pressed.
“I need you say [that] so we all see that,” he insisted.
Robertson put the question back to the crowd.
“Would it be a positive step for me, and anyone who wants to join me, to do a press conference calling out zero tolerance, calling out for community effort to ramp up?” Robertson asked.
The crowd applauded.
“Expect it very soon, as soon as I can jam it in,” Robertson promised.
Little Sister’s manager Janine Fuller said gay community members are “sick” about the “non-stop sense of violence” in their day-to-day lives.
“This should not be our normal sense of who we are and how we survive. We should be able to walk the streets with the dignity that everyone else takes for granted,” Fuller said. “But we can never take for granted what it means to walk the streets.”
Fuller said young people also need the community to “come through” for them to ensure they are educated with “the kind of dignity most of us never experienced in the public school system.”
“We do need a bashline, we do need police on the streets, we need to be together looking after each other,” Fuller urged.
“It really is about moving mountains to end the violence that’s hit our community, and it is a big, big challenge,” she stressed. “We cannot be anything but relentless in our fight to make sure that we win that challenge.”
Fountainhead co-owner Michel Duprat wanted to know why Crown counsel don’t seek hate crime designations in alleged gaybashing cases.
“When we get evidence of motivation, it goes to Crown,” Insp John deHaas of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) insisted, noting that the courts need to be convinced that the evidence put to them can be proven within the law.
“I just caution you in terms of [what you believe] to be the facts and what we’re working hard to show to be the facts,” deHaas added.
“I know our investigators of these cases are working hard. I know [there were] times in the past perhaps not enough focus, effort and attention was being paid,” deHaas acknowledged, “but I can assure you now what our investigators do is very detailed.
“Bias, hate, prejudice incidents are acidic. They impact a whole group of people,” he continued, “and they need to be brought to the court’s attention and they need to be dealt with.”
But deHaas also pointed out that law enforcement is only one strategy in the fight against hate-motivated violence. It sends strong messages, he acknowledged, but those messages have to be sent by other means as well.
“I think we need to push that the education system and the dialogue within our society is one that is accepting and respectful of all of our differences,” deHaas said. “I think that dialogue is something that the police as a partner needs to be engaged in.”
“Why don’t the police go into the schools and talk about homophobia as well?” PrideSpeak facilitator Ryan Clayton suggested. “I think that’ll send a really strong message to the kids who are feeling discriminated against, that they would feel welcome to call 911 if they had to.”
Clayton said no one should be more focused on the gay community than education minister Shirley Bond following the release of the McCreary Centre’s latest study showing that 28 percent of gay- and lesbian-identified high school students have contemplated suicide versus four percent of heterosexual students.
“I think everyone could stand to write a letter to Shirley Bond making sure to hammer that point home, that she understands that statistic, and she personally needs to be addressing that right now or she should be out of her job,” Clayton said.
WEAVE co-founder Ron Stipp indicated that Attorney General Wally Oppal and former Solicitor General John van Dongen were invited to the forum but declined the invitation.