GOOD MEETING, BAD TIMING
First the good news: The Vancouver police chief’s diversity committee-which includes three gay and lesbian members-is having a first-of-its-kind meeting Apr 1 with the queer community to talk about policing issues.
Now the bad news: The way it was timed and publicized means that most of the community will be unaware of the meeting until they read it here-after it takes place.
Vince Marino, the gay rep on the mayor’s diversity advisory committee, first floated the idea of public meetings when he was interviewed last summer for an opening on the committee. “I said, ‘You should come out to the community. Maybe the community has something it would like to tell you.'”
Marino says criticism of the meeting’s timing, which made it impossible for Xtra West to notify the gay community, “is absolutely right.” But he promises to come back in four or five months and hold another, better publicized one, in the gay community-after public meetings with other minority communities.
The wording of the small poster announcing the meeting has also drawn comment from community members. “The meeting is being held in an open forum in order to help educate the community on the existence and function of the committee and improve the communications links between the community and police,” the announcement reads. Several readers have commented to Xtra West that the committee needs to hear about the community’s priorities rather than be “educated” by the committee.
SAFE SCHOOLS DELAYED
No word yet on exactly when the Safe Schools Task Force report will be released. “Soon,” is all MLA Lorne Mayencourt, who is leading the task force, will say. The report was supposed to be released about six weeks ago. Mayencourt isn’t offering any explanations for the delay. Gay education activists are still hoping the report will result in concrete directives telling schools across BC to add anti-homophobia provisions to their codes of conduct and gay-friendly materials to their classrooms.
Meanwhile, some local youths have stopped waiting for the government and taken it upon themselves to bring their own anti-homophobia message to schools around the Lower Mainland. The Peer Perspectives workshops feature a new, locally-produced video called OUTlet: Queer youth speak out. Produced by and for youth (with help from the Access to Media Education Society), the video looks at the challenges of coming out to parents and classmates. “We need to make the high school environment a safer place and a place where differences can thrive,” says project coordinator Deblekha Guin. But many teachers remain reluctant to book anti-homophobia workshops. That’s why she, too, hopes the Safe Schools Task Force recommends making such programs mandatory soon. To book a Peer Perspectives workshop call 604.325.7337.
MORE TREATMENT NOT COPS
Local AIDS and legal activists say the Vancouver Police Department’s (VPD) plan to re-deploy at least 50 officers to the Downtown Eastside is a step in the wrong direction. Drug users need more treatment services, not more cops, they say. “Why would we put more money into enforcement?” asks YouthCO’s acting director, Sheena Sargeant. “The total number of detox beds in the Lower Mainland can be counted in terms of dozens, whereas the total number of addicts can be counted in terms of thousands.” An enhanced police presence is only going to drive users deeper into the alleys where HIV is spread, agrees Rick Barnes, from AIDS Vancouver. Besides, many of the officers already in the area are “routinely violating the rights” of its residents, adds Pivot, a Downtown Eastside legal advocacy group. Last fall, Pivot released a report documenting dozens of incidents of alleged police abuse. “The injection of more policing resources, without the simultaneous creation of an effective and impartial mechanism for external oversight of the VPD, would leave Downtown Eastside residents exposed to the unaccountable exercise of police authority,” writes Pivot, in a recent letter to the mayor. The VPD is hoping to move the 50 officers out of its Community Policing Centres, and a few other departments, into the Downtown Eastside by the end of April.
DON’T CLOSE BATHHOUSES: STUDY
Don’t close the bathhouses-stock them with condoms and safer sex pamphlets. That’s the conclusion coming out of a new study by the US Center for AIDS Prevention Studies in San Francisco. Researchers found that regulating and closing bathhouses does not actually diminish the number of gay men having unprotected sex. When AIDS first hit, a lot of US cities either forced their bathhouses to close, or regulated the spaces where sex could take place inside. In contrast, Canadian cities allowed their bathhouses to stay open and stocked them with condoms. The new study shows that Canadians had the right approach all along. Interviews with more than 800 gay men in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago showed that men who were likely to have unprotected sex found a place to do so, whether in a bathhouse or not. That’s why bathhouses should seize the opportunity to reach high-risk people and emphasize the importance of safer sex, the researchers conclude.
CUSTOMS AT IT AGAIN
A carton of art books en route to Toronto’s gay bookstore from Germany was doused in oil, withh all the packaging material removed. All enclosed books were damaged. Glad Day Bookstore has received no notice from Customs about the opening of the carton or the damage done.
Glad Day is not entitled to compensation from Customs for the more than $1000 in damage.
Glad Day is in no financial position to take Customs to court over its loss. It is already fighting a constitutional challenge against the Ontario censor board over a count of distributing and unapproved film.
CHARITALE STATUS DENIED
The federal government is reconsidering its criteria for determining who counts as a charitable organization-capable of issuing tax receipts to donors-and who doesn’t. Until now, groups working on anti-racism and anti-homophobia campaigns have been denied charitable status. Now, that’s about to change, sort of. Canada Customs and Revenue Agency is thinking about ushering anti-racism groups into the charitable fold-but leaving anti-homophobia groups out in the cold. “This speaks to a hierarchy of human rights,” says Nick Mule [Jacques: can you give that e have an accent aigu, please?], from Ontario’s Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights. “It is quite valid and wonderful that they are [adding anti-racism]. Racism is still a serious issue in this country.” But the new policy is still going to exclude a variety of other groups, including the gay ones, Mule recently told Xtra West’s Toronto sister paper, Xtra. “The federal government fails to recognize queer communities as a distinct cultural group-we just don’t fall into that category in their minds.”
ADDICTS LACKS RESOURCES
A recent study shows that queers struggling with alcohol and drug addictions in the Lower Mainland lack access to friendly, informed treatment and support services. The study, entitled LGBT Communities and Substance Use: What health has to do with it, is based on a series of community forums, workshops and interviews with queer substance abusers and service providers. Participants raised a number of issues, including the barriers they still face trying to access services. To read the full report, go to: http://www.vcn.bc.ca/vrhb/Whats_New.htm
GOOD MEETING, BAD TIMING