3 min

Diluting the gay village?

The BIA's proposed expansion worries me

Am I the only one worried about the Davie Village Business Improvement Association’s (BIA) proposed expansion?

The expansion plans, which would see the BIA increase its territory from the heart of the Village down to Denman St and north to Robson and Coal Harbour, were formally pitched in February 2005, but they’ve been in the works for a while.

I remember when they were barely a twinkle in then-BIA president Randy Atkinson’s eye.

When he first told me about the prospect of extending the rainbow banners to English Bay and claiming more of the gay community’s territory, I thought it was a great idea. A bigger gay village–encompassing, acknowledging and celebrating more of the space we already live in, play in, work in, congregate in–what’s not to like?

But the plans have shifted since then.

The idea of extending the rainbows down Davie and throughout the new territory has been dropped. As BIA director Lyn Hellyar readily admits, many merchants in the proposed expansion areas recoiled at the idea of joining the “pink village.”

So the BIA backed off and instead put itself forward as a sort of umbrella organization, eager to serve four different sub-regions, each with its own distinct identity and branding.

Now I’m not opposed to distinct sub-regions, but I am worried about what this could someday mean for the Village. Will the BIA water down the Village’s gay identity to seem less threatening to the territories it’s hoping to annex?

Already, the BIA seems to be edging away from its gay roots and its commitment to recognizing and marketing the Village as the heart of Vancouver’s gay community.

Just look at its new Disneyesque mascot, Dee Dee. What does a gender-unambiguous girl in a childish yellow jumper and big pigtails have to do with the gay community? I mean, I guess she’s cute enough in a Cabbage Patch doll sort of way, but she sure doesn’t say gay to me.

Then there’s the BIA’s website.

Yes, it features the rainbow banners and, yes, it mentions the gay presence in the Village and even the Village’s gay history, named as it is after BC’s first gay premier, Alexander Batson Davie.

But it never names the area as Vancouver’s gay village. Instead, it just lists us as one of several “colourful” communities in the area.

And that worries me.

“I am just one person,” says Hellyar, when I ask about the website. She plans to change it, she says, but right now she’s swamped with expansion work.

Still, she swears the Village’s gay identity is neither in question nor in danger of dilution. As long as she’s here, she says, the Village will remain gay and its rainbow banners will keep flying.

To be fair, she has never told me differently. She has consistently tried to reassure me, as have BIA president Vince Marino, and past president James Steck. They all say the BIA’s gay identity is secure. They even passed a resolution at last year’s annual general meeting–which they reaffirmed this September–to “empower the representatives of the existing Davie Village area to determine the identity of the Village.”

So why am I not convinced?

When I ask Hellyar why there were no drag queens this year on the main stage at Davie Day, she says they were on smaller stages nearby, and points to American gay headliner Ari Gold, whom they brought in to perform on the main stage.

Then in the next breath she reminds me that the BIA is there to promote all its businesses–not just the gay ones. So Davie Day can’t be all gay, she explains, because the point is to draw visitors who would not normally come to the Village. Hence the kids’ corner and the more multicultural feel.

She’s right: the BIA is there to promote its members’ interests–that’s what a BIA does. But I can’t help feeling that our BIA used to be more dedicated to embracing and promoting the Village’s gay identity. Remember, it grew out of the Gay and Lesbian Business Association and its members’ desire to create a more visible gaybourhood, rainbows and all.

Sure, it’s gone through some less gay phases since, but it has always come back to its roots.

Now, as the BIA jumps slowly through the city’s hoops towards expansion, I can’t help wonder how deeply those roots really run.