Three years after the initial proposal for its creation was rejected by city council, Vancouver’s newly approved queer advisory committee met for the first time Jul 13.
Committee introductions, board responsibilities and the importance of community consultation were just a few issues on the agenda at the inaugural meeting held at city hall.
Calling the gathering “historic,” gay city councillor Tim Stevenson reinforced the need for the committee and expressed confidence that it will act as a vital bridge between the gay community and city hall.
“There are important issues to the queer community that the city can deal with,” says Stevenson, who will act as a liaison to the committee.
“I’m really hoping that this will be a central committee in the community and it will bring about more changes and help the community move in ways that it hasn’t been able to move regarding some issues,” he adds.
Echoing Stevenson’s statements, lesbian city councillor Ellen Woodsworth called the committee “precedent setting” and told its 12 members that she looks forward to working with them.
“Finally we have a council that really wants to have an interest in queer issues,” says Woodsworth, who will also act as a liaison between the committee and city council.
The LGBTQ Citizens Advisory Committee is the first of its kind in Vancouver. While there has been gay representation on the city’s diversity committee in the past, city hall has never struck an advisory committee dedicated specifically to queer issues.
“I’m really excited,” says Stevenson. “This has been on my mind for a very long time.”
Stevenson first introduced a motion to strike a queer-specific committee in November 2006 but council, then-dominated by members of the Non-Partisan Association (NPA), said no.
“I got nowhere with the NPA,” Stevenson says. “If it weren’t for Vision Vancouver there would be no LGBTQ committee.”
Suzanne Anton, the NPA’s sole representative on council now, wonders why Stevenson didn’t introduce his motion when he was first elected in 2002 after COPE won a majority on council with mayor Larry Campbell.
“I think it’s unfortunate to frame the NPA for not respecting the gay community,” says Anton.
“I was the only one that supported the Odyssey,” she adds, referring to her vote in support of the popular gay nightclub’s proposed relocation to Denman St in April.
Anton says she stands by the NPA’s approach of maintaining diverse advisory committees of multiple minority groups.
Woodsworth hopes the queer-specific committee will actively address issues such as homophobia, gaybashings and queer-friendly education.
The members of the LGBTQ Advisory Committee are: writer Mette Bach; Phillip Banks, direc-tor of the Health Initiative for Men; queer youth representative Ryan Clayton; businessman and activist Jim Deva; Frank Gillespie, education officer with the BC nurses union; health care professional Karen McVeigh; Drew Dennis, executive director of Out on Screen; senior lesbian activist Pat Hogan; Fatima Jaffer from Trikone; Mark Robins from Gay Vancouver.net; Steven RodRozen, gay member of the Jewish Federation; and lesbian activist and organizer about town Barb Snelgrove.
Queer school trustee Jane Bouey will act as liaison to the Vancouver School Board. A parks board liaison has not yet been appointed.
“I think we’ve brought together a very good selection to the committee,” says Stevenson. “Everyone is really an activist in the community.”
During the meeting Mary Clare Zak, city director of social policy, outlined the rules and regulations for all city advisory committees. “You are here to advise council on what the queer priorities are,” she explained.
The role of an advisory board is to give voice to issues pertinent to the community it represents. The committee can make recommendations to city council through their city council liaisons, Zak noted.
Wasting no time, the LGBTQ Advisory Committee proposed two motions to its liaisons at the meeting.
The first motion made was to support the City of Vancouver’s participation in the 2009 Pride Parade, as this year city hall has extended an invitation to the school board, fire department and police department to join their entry in solidarity against homophobia and violence.
The second motion concerns queer representation during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympics games. Jim Deva said he would like to “challenge VANOC to be a little more accepting of our LGBTQ community.”
He would like to see a welcome centre set up in the gay village for visitors during the games.
The committee agreed to strike a subcommittee to further research ways in which the gay community can be actively represented during the winter games.
The committee also unanimously agreed to change its name from the LGBTQ committee to the LGBTTQ committee to include First Nations Two-Spirited representation.
The committee’s first meeting ended with members planning to canvass the queer community on which key issues to tackle during its first two-and-a-half year term. The committee is scheduled to meet again in September.