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Gay village to keep its rainbows

'The community was loud enough that it penetrated through to the BIA': Stevenson

PROMISES. 'We are retaining the Pride banners in the Davie Village but the rest of the West End is going to get new artwork,' says WEBIA's Robert Graham. Credit: Natasha Barsotti photo

“We are retaining the Pride banners in the Davie Village but the rest of the West End is going to get new artwork,” Robert Graham, the new president of the West End Business Improvement Association (WEBIA), told Xtra West Aug 21.

Despite recent statements by WEBIA executive director Lyn Hellyar that the rainbow banners “will come down at some point,” Graham says the rainbows “will always be in the village. Always.”

WEBIA’s decision to replace the rainbows in May with banners promoting the triathlon became a flashpoint for many in the gay community who considered the rainbows’ removal “disturbing and disrespectful.”

Hellyar initially said the triathlon banners were hung temporarily as a means of representing “the diversity of the whole of the West End” as it prepared to welcome the world’s athletes to the area.

The temporary removal of the rainbows was not meant to be disrespectful to the queer community, she said. However, she also told Xtra West that while the BIA promised to preserve the identity of the gay village, “we didn’t promise that the banners would hang there forever.”

Six weeks later, Hellyar revealed that she never intended to put the rainbows back up after the triathlon after all. But in the midst of community outcry against the rainbows’ removal, the triathlon banners came down sooner than planned and their replacements were not ready so the rainbows had to go back up.

Now Graham says the WEBIA “listened to the community” and is committed to maintaining the unique identity of the Davie Village.

Retaining the village’s identity “of course involves the rainbow,” he says.

He claims there was “never any comment about removing the rainbow.”

As a gay male, Graham says he wants to make sure he’s involved on the executive of WEBIA’s board to “ensure that we continue to have the Davie Village as the Davie Village” while integrating within the rest of the West End.

“I love the banners myself as well,” he says, outlining the WEBIA’s banner program plans. “What’s going to happen is on what they call the house side —which is the side closest to the building —in the Davie Village, we’re going to retain rainbows” on the street poles, Graham explains.

The rainbow banners will run from Burrard to Broughton Sts —the three and half blocks that demarcate the Village, he notes.

From Broughton St down to Denman and then up Robson to Jervis St, the poles on the house side of the street will fly the new artwork of local artist Yvonne Hertach, according to Graham. “It actually really is the colours of the rainbow but done in an artistic design,” he says.

Meanwhile on the street side of the poles, seven different solid colours featuring the words “Experience Vancouver’s West End” will hang throughout the West End, including in the Davie Village. “Literally, it’s going to be a rainbow wrapped around the West End,” Graham explains.

Still, Graham says it has become common to see rainbow banners in other cities. “Because of that, why not step [up] and be unique again?” he asks. “Instead of being the same as everybody else, let’s dare to be a little bit different again, because it was very maverick back when the rainbow banners first went up.

“So I think we should maintain our edge on that,” he says. “To me it’s the same as running a business. If you stay the same all the time, people tend to stop noticing certain things. You have to keep a forward motion. So yes, we’re retaining the banners but let’s also look at different visuals as well —in addition to,” Graham suggests.

Asked if the association is going to consult with the community about the new banner plans, Graham admits he “can’t personally speak to” that but says community is very important to the WEBIA.

“I am adamant on that —that the community needs to have a voice on these things. But the community has always been more than invited to get involved with the BIA,” Graham says. “My concern is that they just haven’t always known how, so we’re going to work on getting more information out as well as to how individuals can be involved.”

That the WEBIA has “obviously decided to compromise” is a good thing,” says Vision Vancouver city councillor Tim Stevenson upon hearing about the association’s new banner plans.

“Obviously, the community was loud enough that it penetrated through to the BIA, and that’s good,” Stevenson says. Had the community not spoken up, the outcome would have been different, he suggests.

“It sounds to me like they know the voice of the community is important,” Stevenson continues. “We are the ones that patronize the shops and we are the ones that established the village, and the businesses have responded to that.”

Parks commissioner Spencer Herbert says the new plans are “a really good step forward.”

“What I am pleased to see is there is has been a shift,” he says. “There’s a clear commitment that the rainbows are part of the Davie Village area but at the same time we are acknowledging that the West End is much more diverse.”

Asked about the decision to keep the rainbows, Hellyar says, “we listened to the community and as a board they decided that keeping the Pride flag in the Davie Village was the best thing to do.”

Hellyar says the BIA has not changed its message since its 2005 statement promising “to maintain the gay identity of Davie Village.”

“I have never told anyone that there would not be Pride flags in the Davie Village, not once, because we have a commitment to the community,” she claims.

In addition to maintaining the rainbow banner in the village, Graham says the BIA is working on an initiative with the city to incorporate the rainbow into Davie Village street signs.

He says there are also discussions with the city and private property owners about putting up flagpoles to fly rainbow flags. “I think that would represent a huge visual as well if we could mark all through the Davie Village with great big large flags in the air,” he says.

Hellyar says putting up flagpoles “had been the plan” but “it’s not the current plan.”

“We are considering a lot of initiatives to maintain the gay identity of Davie Village and I’m giving you the information that we can give you at the moment,” she says.

Hellyar told Xtra West in July that a plan to erect new flagpoles on Davie St was already in the works.

“Our plan is to put 18 Pride flags on Davie St. It will be much more noticeable,” she said at the time.

Now she says the WEBIA has “made a different decision because we listened to the community and as a board decided that keeping the Pride flag in the Davie Village would be the best thing to do. There’s no need to even comment on 18 or 28 flagpoles.”

Asked about Graham’s statement about the possibility of incorporating the rainbow symbol into the village’s street signs, Hellyar confirms that is in the works.

“Putting street signs on that demarcate this is the gay village is my idea and it’s been in the works for a while,” she says.

Graham also says the WEBIA “got word” from the mayor’s office Aug 21 that it is going to issue a proclamation that the Davie Village is “the core of the gay neighbourhood in Vancouver.”

“On this idea, I can say on the record we have been approached about something like this,” says David Hurford, the mayor’s Chief of Staff. He declined to say who approached the mayor.

Hurford says he has not heard of any actual communication from the mayor’s office to the WEBIA about the plan. “I think we would want to hear what people had to say about anything before we went out and took any action,” he adds, “but I don’t see any plans as being imminent.”

“Then maybe I wasn’t clear,” says Graham when asked about the reaction from the mayor’s office.

“I meant probably to say that we received word that they were looking at doing it [the proclamation] for us. So there’s the clarification. So it is being worked on.”

Hellyar says the proclamation, which she also indicates has been her idea “for several years now,” is something the WEBIA has asked for and the city is considering.