6 min

Jim Deva: Picture a brand new Centre

That's relevant to our community

As a business person who has owned a vibrant and successful business in the West End, and as a gay man who has been part of our community in Vancouver for over 30 years, I remain obsessed with the concept of a new LGBT Community Centre — and of what that centre could mean to the future of our community.

That is why I was so disappointed to hear that The Centre is having serious financial problems that may force it to relocate from the Davie Village to a more affordable location.

It bothers me on two different levels: one has to do with the loss of the very heart of our community from our gay village and what that would mean to our village’s future.

But I am even more worried that if the community cannot properly fund the existing Centre in its meagre present venue, how can we think of building and funding a new community centre?

The Centre’s all-too-real fundraising problems are a serious wake-up call: where are we as a community and where do we want to go?

Have we become so integrated into the communities we now live in, scattered throughout Greater Vancouver, that we have lost the need for our own unique place that we can proudly call home?

Has the concept of an LGBT Community Centre become outdated?

I think not.

I believe our community deserves and needs a full meal deal —a new community centre, one that engages and is vital to all members of our community.

I visualize a community centre that is a bustling, fun-filled building, one that you would proudly bring your parents to see, or your out-of-town guests to visit.

A community centre that reflects the diversity and sheer brilliance of our LGBT community.

And most importantly, a community centre that fully embraces our community’s arts.

As a community we have survived and thrived because of the progressive work of our artists; indeed many of our successes stem from their brilliant work. The impact of the recent film Milk is but one example.

I would like to see at least a 150-seat theatre for the performing and visual arts in our new centre. One that can be used for screening our films and staging performances by our wonderful theatre and comedy troupes, choruses and other entertainers.

We also need space for our sports teams — volleyball, badminton, floor hockey and so many more — to play, our ballroom dancers to waltz and our seniors to participate in exercise classes.

We need an art gallery for our artists to show and sell their work, we need a home for our archives to be safely kept, one that is open and easily accessible to young people to learn our history.

We need a café where we can meet and talk, perhaps one that helps train our youth-at-risk in job skills.

We need a home for our many of our LGBT non-profits: Vancouver Pride, Out on Screen, the recently formed Health Initiative for Men, the Gay and Lesbian Business Association and many more, perhaps with shared secretarial and computer facilities.

I was fortunate enough to participate in both phases of The Centre’s feasibility study in the last couple of years. The first study was a community input phase, where several different focus groups offered feedback to facilitator Betty Baxter on what they’d like to see in a new Centre.

It would have been more effective had more community members participated, but those who did take part certainly talked about the need for a complete Centre that meets the needs of our diverse community.

But the second phase of the study, which dealt with sustainability, was a complete disaster. It did not serve the needs of our community, nor did it offer an accurate assessment of our community’s needs or desires.

The Centre’s board hired a straight consultant that was an “expert” on creating community centres. I love many straight men, they do serve a useful purpose in the world at large, but not when they know nothing of our community, our historical adversity, nor our abilities to fundraise when challenged.

I believe that the only community that we can compare to ours, when it comes to historical adversity, is the Jewish community. They know the importance of organizing and maintaining a strong, connected community.

If you tour or google Vancouver’s Jewish Community Centre you can see a total model of what we need in our own community centre — complete with theatre, sports facilities, meeting rooms, archives, café and so much more.

We are different than the Ukrainian Centre or any other ethnic community centre and shouldn’t compare our centre’s needs to theirs. But that’s just what the “expert” did.

He told the Centre’s board of directors and tried to tell the few community leaders that participated in the study that the only hope for long-term sustainability was for The Centre to stick to its core programs and not stray.

Our present Centre does brilliant work, helping many of our community members who are in need. The PrideSpeak program goes to schools across the province, saving young lives and changing school culture; the crisis line is staffed by volunteers who care; the Generations Project is changing the experience of aging in our community.

Most of these programs are funded by Vancouver Coastal Health and the provincial government and rightly so as they provide important resources to people in crisis and need.

But the reason The Centre is having trouble fundraising is because it is totally irrelevant to most of our lives.

I see a lot of people in my store everyday. When I talk to them about the Centre’s present financial crisis I frequently have to begin by telling them that we do indeed have a community centre, where it is located and what they do.

For The Centre to be sustainable it must provide activities and programs that are important to all members, not just the few who are in crisis and need immediate specialized advice and counselling.

The Centre’s current programs must be honoured and maintained and strengthened — they do important work. But let’s create a space for the rest of us too. One worth funding.

The last Xtra readership survey conducted in 2004 showed the average income of respondents was $48,500. This is a huge advantage for both fundraising and the sustainability of a new Centre.

I believe the vast majority of us would be more than willing to pay for that great new play, or that evening of queer film, or the ability to play organized sports in a space of our own.

Obviously, any gay community centre would need to welcome those that are un- or underemployed or on fixed incomes, but the day-to-day expenses of a new Centre can and should be paid by the people who use it on a daily basis.

The more people that find the Centre relevant to their lives and visit the facility on a regular basis, the more sustainable the Centre will be.

If The Centre sticks to its current core programs it will continue to be irrelevant to most of us — and its fundraising efforts will continue to fail.

So why is that everything I’m suggesting for a new LGBT centre is diametrically opposed to what The Centre’s current board of directors believes?

Ask them.

I know I will be branded a traitor for exposing the flaws of their feasibility study, but I patiently sat through both phases of the study and was appalled.

The current directors’ claim to know what the community wants in a new community centre is flagrantly false and cannot be allowed to stand.

Many of our community’s leaders have told me they do not have the confidence to give money to the existing Centre because the board is so out of touch with the community.

If the board has such difficulty fundraising does it not mean it needs to change the way it views the future of our centre?

Does it not suggest that more community consultation is needed?

I believe that we have a small window of opportunity to bring our community centre back to our community.

If you agree with me and believe in the importance of a new, inclusive community centre that can be relevant to all our lives, pay your $10, become a member of The Centre and vote at its next annual general meeting (AGM) this June.

To be eligible to vote at the AGM, members must join 30 days prior to the meeting, so you only have three weeks left to join.

Go up the stairs, talk to The Centre’s volunteers and wonderful staff, find out what great work they do, and get your membership.

But on the way down the stairs allow yourself to dream about a new Centre in the heart of our village. Visualize the impact that new Centre could have on our community for generations to come.

I would also like to acknowledge that many of our community members live on or near the Drive. I believe we need a vibrant satellite centre on Commercial Dr that would complement and strengthen The Centre in our village.

It should be planned and executed at the same time we work towards our Centre in the village. I believe both are possible. With careful planning and perfect execution we could have one of the most vibrant communities in the world.

Now is the time and I challenge all who read this to talk to your friends and start the process of working towards our dreams. Because dreams do come true.

We can start by recruiting the most experienced and brilliant members of our community to come sit on The Centre’s board.

If we can harness those skills on a powerful board we can achieve excellence.

Think of this as the first rung on a ladder. With all of us working together we can succeed — we can climb the ladder and have the community centre that so many of us have been craving for so long.