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Five people and a plaza that changed gay Vancouver in 2015

My picks for this year’s newsmakers: the heroes, villains and in-betweens

Bijan Ahmadian stands in front of the Odyssey in July 2015. Credit: Nathaniel Christopher/Xtra

As 2015 comes to a close, it’s time to look back at some of the newsmakers who made their mark this year on queer Vancouver.

Bijan Ahmadian earned his spot in my newsmakers list early in 2015, as he spearheaded the resurrection of a beloved community icon and gathering space, the Odyssey.

Many community members were thrilled to see the O re-open in July in a big, beautiful new space on West Hastings Street, after losing its Howe Street home five years earlier.

The glow faded for some, however, after news in November of Ahmadian’s private investigation into a rival queer party. Ahmadian says he hired the investigators out of concern for people’s safety, after hearing allegations of over-crowding. The investigators not only counted heads but secretly shot video of people having consensual sex in a queer space.

When Ahmadian leaked the report and video footage to The Province, fuelling a front-page story on sex and booze at a queer party, many community members felt betrayed. Some called for Ahmadian’s resignation from the city’s LGBT advisory committee.

Ahmadian maintains there’s no conflict and says he acted out of concern for the safety of community members crammed into allegedly over-crowded parties.

The Odyssey remains open three nights a week, from Thursday to Saturday.

Ray Lam

(Nathaniel Christopher photo)

Ray Lam, until recently executive director of the Vancouver Pride Society, had a fruitful yet challenging year of his own.

In May, Lam helped re-inject some politics and meaning back into Pride, with the introduction of a groundbreaking trans pledge.

When some political parties objected, Lam and his colleagues briefly faltered then stood firm, insisting that anyone who wants to march in the parade has to meaningfully support the community it’s meant to celebrate, honour and uplift.

But as the political pushback intensified — and the BC Liberals lost their spot in the parade — some Pride directors and staff grew concerned about what they considered questionable implementation tactics and allegedly partisan standards. Lam became a focus of the controversy as tension swirled.

At least two Pride people resigned or gave notice on the eve of the parade. Lam resigned at the end of the Pride season as well.

The Pride Society posted Lam’s position on the Indeed job search site on Oct 10, the same day another former staff member filed a human rights complaint against the society for allegedly failing to accommodate her after a traumatic sexual assault outside of work.

Volunteer coordinator Melody Johnson says she was fired July 3. Her allegations have not been proven in tribunal. A mediation session between Johnson and the Pride Society is scheduled to take place in March 2016.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

When then-Liberal leader Justin Trudeau launched his election campaign at the Vancouver Pride parade this year, he may have been foreshadowing a new openness to come in Canadian federal politics.

He certainly showed he could keep a promise, as he flew across the country to attend Pride even as the writ dropped in Ottawa, officially signalling the start of the long election campaign.

The writ proved too tantalizing an opportunity for his key opponents to skip. Though Conservative leader Stephen Harper had no intention of attending Pride, NDP leader Tom Mulcair had promised to march in Vancouver’s parade but broke that promise to instead speak to reporters in Ottawa. “I believe that governing is about priorities,” he told reporters.

When we look back, years from now, on Trudeau’s time in office and his impact on Canadian culture, we might remember that he launched his first-term campaign in Vancouver — at our gay Pride parade. He has already signalled his intent to march in Toronto Pride in 2016, which will make him the first Canadian prime minister to do so.

(Watch the rest of our 2015 Vancouver Pride parade video, hosted by comedian Ryan Steele, here.)

Danny Ramadan

Journalist and activist Ahmed Danny Ramadan only moved to Vancouver 15 months ago, but almost immediately injected a strong, unique and courageous voice into his new home. As an openly gay Syrian man, Ramadan brings important perspective not just to our community but to wider society as well. Despite the potential risks of exposure in his country of origin (where being gay is punishable with imprisonment), Ramadan has selflessly stepped into the public eye to share life experience that would otherwise be lost, poorly understood or silenced.

Not content to simply build a new life for himself with his boyfriend in Canada, Ramadan has also been actively involved in connecting other LGBT Syrian refugees with organized sponsor groups in Canada. And to celebrate their one-year anniversary in Canada, Ramadan and his boyfriend launched their own campaign to sponsor their friend, Rory, a lesbian Syrian refugee now living in Turkey.

We are proud to publish Ramadan’s column in Daily Xtra.

Jenn Mickey

(Nathaniel Christopher photo)

After months of extensive renovations, the Bute Street lounge formerly known as Jupiter Café, J-Lounge and Heaven’s Door (and widely presumed to be cursed) shook off its past and re-opened in June to usher in a brand new era. With Jenn Mickey of 1181 at the helm and setting the vision, XY resurrected a defunct gay space in the heart of the Davie Village and infused it with a new level of presence and sophistication. In a time of shrinking gay spaces, XY bucks the trend and does it with class.

Jim Deva Plaza

(City of Vancouver illustration)

It’s sometimes hard to believe that a year has gone by without hearing Jim Deva’s voice. Deva, who fought for all our stories to be heard, celebrated and not censored, died suddenly in September 2014. He was a mentor to so many of us, an outspoken, irreverent and fearless champion of our community. It is only fitting that the new plaza in the works for the heart of our gay village be named in his honour.

That so many community members, friends, family, loved ones and allies worked together to refine and approve a vision for the plaza in just over a year is a tribute to Deva and the community-building he inspired.

As Trevor Kramer from the city’s LGBT advisory committee says, “It is a testament to what people can achieve when they come together for an important cause.”

The City of Vancouver hopes to complete phase one of construction by the end of July 2016, just in time for Pride.

(Robin Perelle is the managing editor in Vancouver of Daily Xtra and can be reached at robin.perelle@dailyxtra.com or on Twitter @RobinPerelle.)