NEW YEAR’S NEAR-BASHING
The new year got off to a scary start for one gay couple in the West End. Bill and Jude (who asked to go by their first names only for fear of repercussions) were returning home from a lively New Year’s Eve party at around 4 am on Jan 1 when their taxi pulled up in front of their apartment building in the 1100-block of Burnaby St. As Bill stepped out of the taxi on the driver’s side, a new-looking, white “mega-beast-size” SUV pulled up alongside him and refused to pass. The SUV driver started talking “nonsense” to Bill, saying he looked familiar and asking if he is a doctor. Meanwhile, the SUV’s three passengers, all young white men hidden behind tinted windows, loudly discussed faggots. That’s when Jude realized he and his partner might be in danger. “They were waiting for two guys coming home together,” Bill surmises. “It never occurred to me that in front of my own home I could feel so threatened.” Bill credits the Royal City Taxi driver with potentially saving their lives. The driver refused to leave until the couple got safely inside the building. It could have been much worse, Bill says. Though he couldn’t get the SUV’s licence plate number, he says it looked like a Lincoln Navigator and warns his neighbours to be on the look out. “I don’t feel I should have to be scared on the street that I live on,” Bill says.
SCHOOL SAFETY SET BACK
Last year, BC’s human rights tribunal held school administrators in North Vancouver responsible for failing to stop repeated homophobic attacks against high school student Azmi Jubran. Now, that ruling has been overturned by a BC Supreme Court judge. Jubran filed a complaint against his old high school, Handsworth secondary, in 1996 after enduring years of discrimination and anti-gay harassment. Though he doesn’t actually identify as gay, he says that never stopped his classmates from regularly calling him faggot and tormenting him. The tribunal agreed and ruled that school administrators have an obligation to provide students with a discrimination-free learning environment and should have done more to prevent the harassment-rather than simply responding on a case-by-case basis. The board did nothing to ensure that its schools were addressing the issue of homophobia, the tribunal further noted, fining the board $4,000.
The school board appealed the decision last June-sparking concern within the gay community. The Jubran ruling set an important precedent, Steve LeBel, of BC’s Gay and Lesbian Educators (GALE), told Xtra West at the time. It put BC school boards on notice that homophobia will no longer be tolerated and preventive measures are required. “If this decision is struck down what message will that send?” he asked. It looks like he’s about to find out.
On Jan 6, BC Supreme Court Justice Allan Stewart quashed the tribunal’s ruling, saying it was “fatally flawed” because Jubran is not gay and thus fails to qualify for protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Just because Jubran doesn’t identify as gay doesn’t mean he wasn’t repeatedly gay-bashed, LeBel said last June. “The core issue is that the harassment occurs,” he explained. “The fact that some students might not really believe that Jubran is gay doesn’t mitigate their actions or the school board’s responsibility.”
STEVENSON IN CHARGE OF CUTTING RED TAPE
Freshly elected city councillor Tim Stevenson has been appointed Mayor Larry Campbell’s personal liaison with small business and tourism companies.
As well, Campbell has appointed him liaison to the West End and the gay community. Stevenson represented the West End for five years as an NDP MLA.
During the election Stevenson repeatedly called for cutting red tape in the way of bars and other small tourism businesses. He specifically focussed on getting city hall off the backs of gay-bar owners, sex-video arcades, dildo retailers and sex-party promoters.
Last October, Stevenson blamed council’s “puritanical” streak for tax increases on sex shops. “They’ve decided that they have the right to decide on our morality,” he said at the time.
A media release from Campbell notes that “West End residents have a number of particular concerns. As a resident and a long-time leader in the gay community, Tim is especially well placed to act as their advocate.”
Stevenson was also appointed an alternate to the GVRD Labour Relations Bureau and as the Vancouver representative to the Lower Mainland Municipal Association. Though the only COPE councillor to have served as a member of government (the last term of the provincial NDP), Stevenson was not appointed to chair any major city committees.
Ellen Woodsworth, the first out lesbian to be elected councillor in Vancouver, was appointed by Campbell to be the lead councillor on issues of importance to the lesbian community. Woodsworth was also appointed vice-chair of the standing committee on city services and budgets, as well as taking the city position on the executive of the Union of BC Municipalities.
CURTAINS FOR AIDS BC FOUNDATION
A Dec 23 media release from AIDS Vancouver announced that the agreement between that organization and the AIDS BC Foundation has now been officially terminated.
“The parties have entered into an agreement resolving outstanding issues arising from the termination,” stated the release. “AIDS BC Foundation will be winding up its operations.
“Both organizations wish to ensure their many supporters, volunteers and donors that the termination of their agreement will not affect the work being done by AIDS Vancouver.”
The foundation was sharply criticized by other AIDS groups as misrepresenting itself as independent.
Critics charged it was controlled by AIDS Vancouver and was actually a fundraising tool for that organization. Major resignations on the AIDS Vancouver board of directors followed as staff demanded the foundation be closed.
QUEER ADVICE COMING
A recommendation to create an advisory committee on queer issues will be put before the Vancouver School Board soon, says one of the newly elected COPE trustees.
“It’s good,” says queer trustee Jane Bouey, though she can’t say exactly what’s in the proposal since it has yet to be drafted.
The proposal to move forward with the committee’s creation was made Dec 17 in a management committee meeting of trustees, union representatives, staff and principals. GAB Youth Services Romi Chandra, part of the Outreach Coalition that recommended the committee’s creation last year, is thrilled.
“Wow!” he says. “This is great because it shows the Vancouver School Board is being proactive. It means we get to have a better relationship with the schools and school board.”
Last year, the Outreach Coalition recommended that queer issues be included in the curriculum, discipline be mandated for anti-gay harassment, gay-straight alliances be supported and an advisory committee be formed.
The board accepted everything but the advisory committee. The NPA-dominated board buried the committee in other committees and considered incorporating it into one of its existing committee, such as the one on race relations, special needs or sexual harassment.
Bouey is now shepherding the queer advisory committee’s creation through the new COPE-dominated board.