3 min

Getting bigger, getting better

Vigilance makes gay culture grow strong

Credit: Xtra West files

We build gay culture one brick at a time. Every new friend we make; every new sex experience we have; every new sports group, theatre company, newspaper or activist group we found or join; every new festival at which we celebrate; every new play, song, novel or poem we write; every new bar or other business we start or frequent: they all add up to gay culture.

Look around: we’re thriving. Gay’s not over, it’s just begun.

Name a sport; there’s a gay team. Our 684-XTRA listings in this paper detail 180 groups of every kind that you, dear reader, can join. We have Pride. We have Out on Screen. We have Gay Ski Week. We have gay media. We have gay bars owned by gay people, and not by organized crime as in some other cities. We have out gay politicians, some of whom are happy to work on issues that benefit our community. And our presence is spreading to straight festivities. This past year, the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival added a queer component. Then the Asian Film Festival added an evening of queer flicks. The number one news story in Canada’s media last year was gay marriage.

We are so on a roll, girl.

Not that the journey is smooth. Who’d have guessed that Paul Martin would backtrack on legalizing gay marriage after it seemed the path was all prepared? The price of freedom, as someone much wiser than myself has said, is eternal vigilance. You win something, you think it’s over and time to enjoy some of that newfound freedom, and some jerk takes a big bite out of your behind when your guard is down.

There are two recent examples at the street level in Vancouver. Vancouver police told us nearly two years ago that our community will receive prompt response to violent gaybashings when we call 911. Gay poet Billeh Nickerson tried that on New Year’s eve and it took more than three hours before police called back, before dispatching a car, to see if the man who had threatened Nickerson’s life was still around. When he sought out a nearby cop, he says he was lectured to use the word “officer”, not “cop” and told he should not have left the scene.

This is unacceptable. Vancouver police and 911 must change their priority rankings so that any threat of violence that includes a verbal expression of homophobia, racism, or other prejudice is given the highest available priority of response-Priority One. Period. Our community thought we’d achieved that priority change in 2002. Eternal vigilance, eh?

Another example of the need for eternal vigilance emerged in the last week. A form letter is being circulated among Davie St businesses, a letter that opposes renewal of the Davie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA). It’s the BIA that is responsible for nurturing the street’s emergence as the gay main street of Vancouver and a gay tourism destination. The BIA has grand and eloquent plans for the village that go far beyond the brilliant rainbow flags now flying overhead. Progress is being made to turn Davie into a 24-hour gay entertainment and shopping area that reverses our stodgy international reputation. But now, it seems, a few merchants want to see the end of the BIA, which has taken a liberal approach to dealing with complex social issues like panhandling. If one-third of the merchants in the BIA catchment area vote against renewal, then city hall normally would refuse the application. Of course, in this case, we’d expect Vancouver’s gay and lesbian city councillors to persuade their colleagues to renew the BIA in any case.

But if that doesn’t happen, we’ll lose our gay village. And our rainbow flags overhead. And our plans to transform Davie into the gay capital of our dreams. But there’s something we can all do: spend money in the village. Ask for the manager or owner next time you buy a cup of coffee, a hamburger, or whatever, and tell them that you support the renewal of the BIA and plan to spend your earnings in stores that also do. Let’s make clear the spending power of the gay dollar.

Eternal vigilance is a small investment with a big payoff: our freedom and the continued growth of a magnificent gay culture.

Gareth Kirkby is Managing Editor for Xtra.