Openly gay candidate for a slot on the NPA’s city council election slate Sean Bickerton sailed to easy victory Sep 14 at an endorsement meeting at the Croatian Cultural Centre. Bickerton was one of five candidates vying for the NPA’s remaining council endorsements. The other four are Leanore Copeland, David Lee, Daljit Sidhu and Kanman Wong.
They join mayoral hopeful Peter Ladner and councilors Elizabeth Ball, Suzanne Anton and Kim Capri, as well as Michael Geller and Korina Houghton who will face off against Vision Vancouver and the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) in November’s civic election.
Before Saturday’s vote, Bickerton told Xtra West he wasn’t ready to rest on his laurels.
“I don’t consider it in the bag until the people have spoken,” he said.
Bickerton says he wants to use his seat on city council to preserve the unique heritage of Vancouver’s diverse neighbourhoods, including the Davie Village, which he considers under threat by developers who may seek to transform the low-rise residential and commercial strip into more profitable high-rise buildings.
“We’re losing our heritage,” he says. “In 10 years, it’ll all be gone. The character will be lost forever. We have to have a community plan.”
Communities like the Davie Village are important assets to the city, Bickerton says.
“If you lose your cultural history, you’re rootless — lost. It’s impossible to create a vital future without a strong ground.
“We need a place that reflects us as a community, anchored with a cultural centre where we can tell our stories,” he adds. “We’re losing the gay history of Vancouver. We need an oral archive and we need to support young gay radical writers and performers.”
Bickerton plans to push for cultural centres in many of the city’s threatened neighbourhoods, including the Downtown East Side, where he lives in the Tinseltown development.
“What we can’t do is wait for the Olympics [to be] like some sort of magic wand that’ll clean everything up. We have to start now, at the block level, including all those who live there, whether they have homes or not,” he says “We need a comprehensive plan for the area started by residents and anchored by cultural and performance places.”
While he hopes for support for these developments from senior levels of government, he says the Harper-led federal government has not been receptive to cultural programming.
“I can’t speak for the federal government,” he says. “Their policies on the arts are misguided. We just have to convince them.”
Bickerton also says he will work to advance a safe streets agenda at council to address the ongoing problem of gay bashing in the city.
“I was bashed in the streets of Vancouver 25 years ago and almost didn’t live,” he says, pointing to small scars on his nose, which he says are remnants of the beating he took. “We need safe streets in which to exercise our freedoms.”
But Bickerton says any new initiatives against violence must come from the ground up and include all stakeholders.
“We need to bring in residents, businesses, owners, governments, local police, people who work in the areas, into a room and try to reach consensus,” he says.
Bickerton is joined on the NPA ticket by Laura McDiarmid, an out lesbian and former member of the Parks Board, who picked up the Parks Board nomination in June.
McDiarmid says she will be accessible to the queer community as a parks board member.
“As a lesbian, I would ensure the needs and issues of the GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans] community are brought to the table,” she says.
The Davie Village needs better access to community spaces, McDiarmid says, musing that The Centre could be brought under city control to provide better service.
“Why can’t it be? We should talk to The Centre and look into adding it to our stock. We need a new [community] centre, if The Centre’s willing to do it,” she says.
Among McDiarmid’s other priorities will be adding park space to the Downtown East Side during that neighbourhood’s renewal process.