Longtime West end resident John Whistler has a history of environmental activism spanning two decades. At first glance, though, he seems to live kind of a Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde life, working at an international energy company that negotiates contracts for materials and services to manage natural gas processing plants.
Whistler says there’s no clash in ethics. The 48-year-old laughs, “It’s my alter ego.”
Social justice and environmentalism are his two basic core values and, he says, “I have the blessing of the company to champion environmental issues at work. They know my political leanings.
“I’m out at work,” he adds with a chuckle. “I don’t know which they think is worse sometimes.” He has worked at BC’s Duke Energy for 25 years.
In a corporate environment being gay and an environmentalist is not necessarily limiting, Whistler says. Successful companies nowadays welcome diversity. “The workforce needs to reflect who’s out there. The most successful companies attract and encourage people with new and different thinking. If a corporation limits employees because of their political beliefs they are cutting their own throats.”
Whistler is of different minds when considering the state of the environment today. “A capitalist economy based on consumption is not a sustainable model, so from a global perspective I’m getting very pessimistic.”
Locally, however, Whistler has a more optimistic outlook and says he feels fortunate to live here. “Vancouver is probably one of the most desirable places to live in the world. I love the city and the energy in the West End 24 hours a day.”
He says city living is the most environmentally sustainable way of living for humans. “Suburban sprawl is less environmentally sustainable,” he notes.
His focus is how to make the city attractive and sustainable for people to live in. His major interests are public transit and bikeways. He’s been on the board of the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC) since 1999.
Single right now, Whistler spends much of his spare time active in his volunteer work. He’s a director of the West End Residents Association, examining livability issues in the West End such as housing, transit, the impact of drugs and larger social issues in the Davie Village. Whistler was born in Vancouver and has lived in the West End for 25 years.
He’s always had environmental interests but says he got more deeply involved through his experience with the 1990 Gay Games, after being approached to be a cycling co-chair.
Admittedly clueless about cycling at the time, he went to Cycling BC for information. After working with the cycling advocates, Whistler got active promoting cycling issues and in 1991 he was appointed to the city of Vancouver’s Bicycle Advisory Committee.
For five years, he helped plan the city bikeways now being implemented. He was also on the board of directors of Better Environmentally Sound Transportation (BEST), which sponsors Bike to Work Month.
Whistler finds a sense of acceptance in both the biking and environmental communities and cites that as one of the reasons he’s stayed with each so long.
“Environmentalists are much more conscious of social justice issues and tend to be a lot less homophobic than what I’ve seen in other activists. I don’t feel like people treat me differently as a gay person. They respect me for what I am. I don’t encounter homophobia at all.
“Most of them are straight but they accept and take interest in my life in a general fashion. I feel like I’m part of the family.”
Many analogies can be drawn between the queer and the environmental communities and Whistler draws upon his experience as an activist to help both. “I see what happened in the gay community that’s been effective and bring that over into the environmental community, and vice versa. There’s a lot to learn from each other,” he assures advocates of both groups.
“I think it’s very important that gay activists look, as much as possible, beyond just their own agenda and see what other groups are doing and learn from each other and work together.”