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3 min

Community wants brick-and-mortar centre

Activists say 'Get on with job after 10-year delay!'

GETTING INVOLVED. Sam McEwen, 25, recently moved to Ottawa from Toronto. He's joined forces with some longtime activists to get a queer community centre project fast-tracked. Credit: (Gareth Kirkby)

Let’s get a building in the downtown core. Let’s tell city hall we want help, and now. And let’s get on with the job without further delays.

That’s the consensus that nearly 50 participants came to at an Aug 16 emergency meeting to discuss a community centre to serve Ottawa’s queer community.

After 10 years of wheel-spinning and delays since the 1995 community meeting that first decided that a freestanding queer community centre was a high priority, participants said it’s time to get it done. And they signed up for six committees whose job it will be to envision, fundraise, lobby city council, create a workable organization and take on the other tasks needed to make it happen.

Invisibility of the queer community is a big problem in Ottawa, lesbian activist Marie Robertson said. “I want a building. It has to be something concrete. A safe, queer-friendly space.

“Where’s the community?” Robertson asked.

“In Montreal,” snickered one participant.

Members of the volunteer committee that has been trying, with little success, to jump-start the project expressed frustration with the lack of community involvement.

Lyle Borden, chair of the centre’s fundraising committee, decried the recent state of community volunteerism in Ottawa. “A lot of people think they have made it and have moved to the suburbs. We need a centre to bring the community back to its roots.”

Acknowledging that burnout is a problem, he suggested: “Take a rest and come back.” The community’s leadership challenge is to figure out “how to reinvigorate those who’ve dropped out.”

Keith Duncanson, another member of the committee, also challenged the community to get involved. “Over the last several months the community members have remarked on a draining of energy and a lack of visible support for a community centre,” said the former president of Pink Triangle Services. If the community really wants a bricks-and-mortar centre, Duncanson suggested, it requires a strong shot of energy from Ottawa queers, involvement in fundraising and a united voice telling city hall that local government must begin providing money immediately.

Participants listed what they wanted to see in a queer community centre: They include:

q the health and social services delivered by PTS, and the evolution of new ones;

q other queer groups and AIDS organizations moving into the building;

q easy access for handicapped people;

q recreation facilities and a focus on ensuring that the space is fun, attractive and enticing to community members;

q a location in Centretown, close to the existing PTS site;

q outreach programs to reach people outside the city centre;

q possible use of web resources to build momentum for the bricks-and-mortar project.

We need a community centre which shares space, staff and computer resources among the many queer groups and organizations, said Darren Fisher, vice-chair of Ottawa-Gatineau Pride Committee. “The groups can share the hard costs. We could all have resources. We should not work against each other.”

Others suggested that a community centre could be jump-started if three things occur: PTS starts representing itself as the centre and demands that city hall pay their rent in the short term while a long-term solution is planned; other groups commit to moving into a common building with PTS; and the queer community insist that city hall find a rent-free building downtown to house the groups, or build an extension to an existing space such as the Jack Purcell Community Centre.

The federal and provincial governments should also be tapped for funding. The social and health services and programming of community groups more than pays for government funding by saving future high costs, participants learned. And the gay community is already largely tapped out for fundraising, several people noted. It’s time government coughed up money for our groups, and we need to unite behind that message.

It’s time to tell government, “We’re here, we deserve [money] and we need it,” said Kerry Beckett, a Capital Xtra employee who has served on several boards.

“The heart of the community centre is in this room. We just have to wrap a building around it.”