An annual fundraiser for sex- trade workers in Vancouver has come to an end after five years of showcasing some of the gay community’s most acclaimed writers.
ThrilLiterate creator and host Amber Dawn says she’s happy to have brought together local queer talent but had to retire the fundraiser for “self-preservation.”
The full-time programming director of Vancouver’s Queer Film Festival says her increasing workload, as well as plans to write a second novel and the recent addition of a part-time teaching position, are time consuming.
“I feel like I’m burning the candle at both ends,” she says.
Amber Dawn says she started thrilLiterate out of a passion for written expression and a desire to empower sex-trade workers. A former sex-trade worker herself, she says programs like the literacy and learning program at WISH, a drop-in centre for female street workers in the Downtown Eastside, help provide a platform for people finding their voice.
“A voice is something a person holds within them even if they’re homeless,” Amber Dawn says.
“WISH has demonstrated success in their literacy and learning program,” she adds. “It just feels good to support learning and literature. It’s a huge part of our human experience.”
WISH’s literacy and learning program offers women computer and math skills, creative-writing training and the chance to tell their stories.
ThrilLiterate’s end means a “significant” funding cut to the program, admits WISH executive director Kate Gibson, adding how grateful she is for the support she’s received over the last five years.
“It’s important to focus on the gratitude we have for Amber Dawn and the work she has done for us,” Gibson says. “Just the fact that there is someone in the community doing that good work for WISH is really appreciated.”
WISH is a registered non-profit organization operated by women that offers female survival sex workers a variety of services, including showers, meals, hygiene items, healthcare and shelter. One hundred percent of the money raised by thrilLiterate was donated to WISH’s literacy program. Gibson says the drop-in centre helps an estimated 100 women nightly, with approximately 20 clients using the literacy resources.
Gibson says donations from thrilLiterate have tripled over the past five years. This year the event raised $1,300. The finale, a two-night event that took place Feb 24 and 25 at Rhizome Café, showcased more than a dozen local gay writers, including former Xtra contributor Tony Correia.
“It was kind of a love-in. It was very touchy-feely,” Correia says. “Everyone was happy to be there and sad to see it end.”
At its inception in 2007, thrilLiterate initially attracted only lesbian writers and readers, but it later opened up to all participants. “Amber Dawn really gave a lot of writers the chance to have their voices heard,” Correia says. “[ThrilLiterate] is going to be greatly missed.”
Rhizome co-owner Vinetta Lenavat says she was honoured to host the final fundraiser. “It was definitely bittersweet. Amber Dawn has always been really supportive of us, and it was a really good match for thrilLiterate to be at Rhizome,” she says.
Lenavat says the café was filled to capacity both nights of the event.
“It was kind of a win-win situation,” Amber Dawn concludes. “Not only could I contribute to WISH, but there are outstanding queer and ally writers in Vancouver, and there are not enough venues or audience in the community.”