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4 min

Homophobic confrontation a ‘reality check’

Loss of dedicated gay liaison 'a step backward': WEAVE

WAKE-UP CALL. 'I don't want to make it sound like I'm a huge victim. I made it out without a scratch,' says Mitch McGuire after a homophobic confrontation in the Davie Village. Credit: Natasha Barsotti photo

After knocking off his bartending job in the early morning hours, Mitch McGuire usually heads for the corner of Davie and Bute Sts, stopping there to chat with a work buddy before continuing home.

But some three weeks ago, as McGuire parted ways with his colleague and walked south down Bute St, a man with a backpack standing near the cul-de-sac ran at him screaming, “you fuckin’ faggot,” McGuire recounts. “[It was] just right out of the blue,” he says.

“It scared the crap out of me because I wasn’t expecting it. He was really wanting to get me,” McGuire alleges.

“I kept my distance, I jumped back. He didn’t touch me at all. He was right up in my face, and initially I ran about 10 feet. I started to run to get away from him because I didn’t know if he had a gun or a knife or whatever.”

That a weapon might be involved prompted McGuire to change strategy. He stopped running and turned to face the man, fists clenched, “ready to fight.”

“I was thinking to myself, ‘I’m not gonna get a knife in the back,’ so I just stopped, turned around, and that’s when he was up in my face telling me, ‘fuckin’ faggot.’ That’s all he was saying. Then he said, ‘I saw you and your faggot friend on the corner,’ so obviously he was watching us from a block away,” McGuire surmises, noting that he and his colleague “didn’t even hug goodbye or anything.”

McGuire said his next tack was to deny he was gay to try to defuse the situation.

“All I said was I’m not a faggot, you know, and I looked at him like, ‘What are you gonna say now?’ From that point, he actually kinda laid off a little bit,” McGuire recollects.

As far as McGuire could tell, the man, whom he described as in his late 20s, 5′ 7 or 8″, light-skinned, and “maybe Middle Eastern,” was not drunk or high, nor was he interested in robbery.

“He just wanted to fight me and beat me up,” McGuire alleges. “He wasn’t bigger than me, but at the same time, what [weapon] does he have, right? What’s his intention coming after somebody?”

Even as McGuire began retreating from the incident a second time, making it as far as Burnaby St, the man began following him again, still muttering, “you fuckin’ faggot.”

McGuire then called 911 and was met by two officers in a police cruiser within five to 10 minutes, who were courteous and supportive. He hasn’t seen the man since.

McGuire refuses to change his route home but now takes a hiking stick with him if he’s out at night.

“I don’t want to make it sound like I’m a huge victim. I’m really not. I made it out without a scratch. It was a reality check. I am more aware now walking on the street and noticing my surroundings,” McGuire asserts, adding that he keeps hearing about other incidents in the Village, both verbal and physical, from friends and acquaintances.

“It definitely seems to be getting prominent in the Davie St area,” says McGuire.

McGuire’s friend Spencer Herbert says he’s not sure whether anti-gay attacks are increasing in the Village or if people are becoming more secure about sharing their experiences because “they’ve heard from others as well.” But he too has heard from friends about threats and near attacks in the last few months, specifically around Bute and Davie Sts and also around the intersection of Davie and Burrard.

“It certainly makes me concerned because we keep thinking we’re moving forward, and in many ways we are, but these kinds of attacks or threats really do remind us,” says Herbert, who reveals that an anti-gay slur was shouted at him as he made his way along Davie St two or three weeks ago. “I kinda went, ‘Wait a second, what year is this, where are we at?'”

Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva wants to know where the Vancouver Police Department’s diversity advisory committee is.

“What are they doing, are they hearing these reports, are people reporting to them, to our representative Vance Campbell on the chief’s board? Are they going to him? Is he doing something about it?” Deva wonders.

“If this happened to an individual, how do they follow it up? The problem as I see it is there isn’t a clear channel of communication. I suspect just reporting it to an individual police officer on the beat is not enough,” Deva argues.

“You know this is the first I’ve heard of it, so I’m sorry, I wish I were a little more clued in. No one has brought it to my attention,” says Campbell when asked if he is aware of what happened to McGuire.

“I haven’t heard anything about verbal bashings or gaybashing issues, and it certainly hasn’t been the topic in any of the last couple meetings I’ve been to,” says Campbell.

The 12-member diversity committee, which meets monthly, is hearing more about gang-related activity not related to Davie Village, he says.

Asked if he feels the queer community is aware of the committee and its work, Campbell says it’s a “work in motion to get our name out there.

“We attend a lot of diversity-related events. We’re a volunteer board and we do whatever we can to spread the word that we’re about diversity in all its stripes and forms,” Campbell emphasizes.

“I think most of the professional people that I encounter in the Village know I sit on that board but, you know, I don’t know every single solitary person in the Village. It’s hard for me to judge whether or not there is a general knowledge out there or not,” Campbell admits.

Jack Herman of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere (WEAVE), formed in the aftermath of Aaron Webster’s 2001 murder, says there’s not enough information in the community about access to resources related to anti-gay threats and violence. Herman says people approach him almost by default since he’s a certified victim services worker.

“A lot of people may know me indirectly and get a hold of me and say, ‘Will you talk to this guy or this girl?’ That’s how I’ve become involved with victims of crime. WEAVE has always said call 911, call the cops, always call the cops.”

However, Herman says he has misgivings about the VPD’s approach to handling queer safety issues under a broader umbrella of diversity. He would like to see the VPD reinstate its dedicated gay liaison officer, a position recently rolled into the Diversity and Aboriginal Section.

Retired Det Roz Shakespeare lobbied for and won a commitment to staff the gay liaison position with a full-time officer in 2003.

Herman says it’s “a step backward” that a dedicated gay liaison no longer exists, maintaining that queer issues are unique.

“The issues are totally different and the physical violence and verbal assaults on the streets are completely different than addressing the needs of, say, the Indo-Canadian community. I believe that a dedicated officer working out of the West End community policing centre is ideal.”