In June 2007 I put my name forward for election to the board of directors of The Centre because I believe in the importance of contributing to my community.
In my hometown of Ottawa I had long been involved in matters of equity and diversity. I have always felt compelled to make a difference and it is queer activism that most moves me.
As a result of my experiences on various boards I was prepared for hours of meetings, lengthy debates and intense discussions about the future of The Centre. However, I did not realise that within seven months I would be the interim executive director of The Centre and fielding harsh criticism from our local queer media.
The Centre has seen a change in leadership over the past few months and legal constraints forbid me to speak to them. And frankly I believe that personnel issues are confidential and would not feel it appropriate to speak publicly about any Centre staff or volunteers.
What I can tell you, though, is how I feel about The Centre.
When I first read Robin Perelle’s Feb 28 column I was saddened. In that piece, Robin took aim at The Centre and criticised us for not doing enough, not celebrating enough, not being relevant enough to the community.
All that we do here, all the people that we help, support and serve… and yet the editor of our local queer media doesn’t think we are relevant.
I wanted to throw my hands up in the air in frustration and shake my fist in anger.
Once I finished figuratively stomping about, I picked up the phone and called Robin. That phone call led to a long talk over coffee and finally to this guest column. I want to thank Robin for giving me the opportunity to directly address Xtra West’s readers, our community.
I know how important the work that we do at The Centre is to so very many people. I know we make a huge difference daily in the lives of many members of our communities.
I know that without The Centre many community members would needlessly suffer, that homophobia and transphobia would gain even greater prominence in the local mainstream community.
I know that our services, programs, education and outreach constantly support, enhance and celebrate me, you and all members of our LGTB communities.
However, if you don’t think that The Centre is relevant to your life then, to paraphrase the immortal Desi Arnaz, I got some explaining to do.
The Centre is aptly named because it is indeed in the centre of it all. Geographically it is situated in the centre of the Davie Village. Historically it has been in the middle of queer issues, celebrations, advances and struggles for over 30 years. Socially it is the provider of many government-funded programs and services that cannot be found anywhere else in our communities.
I like to think of The Centre as a hub, a point at which many aspects of our communities converge, a point from which we reach out.
The Centre matters to me because it feels like a place of belonging.
Every major city needs a place where the queer communities come together. We all need a place that we know we belong, especially when we may feel that we do not wholly belong in the mainstream community.
When I first arrived in Vancouver I didn’t know many people. One of my first stops was The Centre because I needed to connect with community. I had left my community back east and was feeling a little adrift.
No matter where I am, I seek out my community. This means finding the queer village in whatever form it takes. It also means finding the community centre or bookstore or queer organisation that serves as a focal point, a gathering place, a resource centre and a referral service. In Vancouver we are lucky to have all that in The Centre.
From within The Centre, flow programming and services that touch thousands of lives. Our Pridespeak program is in elementary and secondary schools throughout the Lower Mainland working with children and youth around issues of bullying and homophobia.
Such programming strives to ensure safe and positive learning environments where children and youth can feel comfortable to be who they are, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. Pridespeaks reach over 3,000 school age children and youth every year.
The Centre also offers confidential counselling services and provides referrals to LGTB friendly professionals. The Centre’s Prideline is available seven days a week with trained peer support volunteers who can answer all your questions. The Prideline is run on both a local and toll-free number and is accessed by over 30,000 people across the province every year.
The Centre’s Education and Outreach services facilitate workshops and present courses on LGTB issues in many different workplaces. Education and Outreach is also responsible for liaising with many of our social service partners, as well as coordinating The Centre’s internal workshops and groups and organising Centre events such as our upcoming fourth annual National Day Against Homophobia Awareness breakfast.
The Centre’s Generations Project offers a space to meet and programming that brings older queers together to learn, share and continue to build community.
I am very proud of all our programs and services but The Centre does not stop there. We are working tirelessly to develop our capacity to do more.
We are currently engaged in negotiations with the City of Vancouver that we are confident will result in acquiring a new home for your community centre.
As we are not the only parties in negotiations we are unable to reveal any details until a deal is signed, but as soon as we can we will be thrilled to share the news.
However, what I can tell you is that the new space will be bigger, brighter, accessible, new and multi-purpose.
Within the new space we will do more than all that we already do well. We will also have the space and the capacity to be a true cultural community centre, something community members have told us they want.
We will not have auditorium or theatre space, as much as we would love it. We have been told by those that know that such space would be an unwieldy expense that would be unused most days of the year.
But we will have larger meeting spaces so that community groups, teams, and organisations will have accessible space in which to plan, organise, and strategise.
We will have space for creativity, for artistic expression, for celebration. The Centre will be ideally situated to be a community destination, a place that newcomers seek out, a place where they know they belong.
These are exciting times at The Centre. Not only are we involved in plans for a new site and a new building we are also involved in a number of new initiatives.
We have partnered with OUTtv to cover the planning, production and unfolding of our Queer Prom in a reality TV format series.
When I first met with our Gab Youth workers to discuss the Prom and OUTtv’s involvement I was moved to misty eyes by stories of previous proms. We are talking about young people having the opportunity to take their date of choice to a prom, about parents taking pictures of a couple as they set out for the evening all decked out in their formal wear with corsages and boutonnieres, about a school bus full of queer youth driving in from Abbotsford for the big event.
That The Centre presents this opportunity to queer youth makes me very proud. That this will be captured on film and broadcast on TV excites me, and also scares me a little. (As interim executive director I can’t help but worry, that’s part of my job… but I have faith in our Gab Youth workers and coordinators and the youth that will organise the event.)
If you still don’t see how The Centre may be of service to you, I would like to suggest that you consider how you may be relevant to The Centre.
What interests you? What skill, hobby, expertise do you have that you could share with members of your community? How can you make a difference in the lives of others?
At The Centre we provide opportunities for learning and sharing between members of our communities and in so doing we are celebrating our communities, our identities, our lives and our experiences. Besides the obvious benefits (networking, sharpening old skills and developing new skills, expanding career options), volunteers develop a feeling of connection with each other, staff, clients and the organisation. A sense of belonging, of being a part of something bigger than oneself, is a natural outcome of volunteering.
When people volunteer community happens. And when community happens we all have reason to celebrate.
The Centre is a more than just a provider of programs and services. The Centre is the combined strengths of community members coming together to celebrate, enhance and support the lives and identities of all members of our communities every day. The Centre is your Centre.
Please contact me with your suggestions, contributions, ideas and comments. You can reach me at 604.684.5307 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Together we build community. Together we are community.