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Local and national newsbriefs

Lorne Mayencourt. Credit: Robin Perelle photo

MENINGITIS RETURNS
It seems the meningitis scare isn’t over after all. After two months without a new reported case in the community, a fourth gay man died of meningitis last week. He had not been vaccinated. The BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) promptly sent out a warning to the gay community, urging anyone who has not yet gotten vaccinated to do so immediately. Last December, the BCCDC launched a free meningitis vaccination campaign for gay and bisexual men in the province, after recording an unusually high number of cases last fall. Three of the cases proved fatal. The vaccination campaign has now been extended. Meningitis is very easily transmitted. It is most commonly spread through saliva, which means that sharing a drink, a joint or a kiss can put people at risk. The vaccinations are available from family doctors and clinics, including the Bute St Clinic at 1170 Bute St.

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CITY THREATENS GAY NIGHTLIFE?
City hall is holding an open house next week to ask Davie Villagers how late they’d like their bars and clubs to stay open.

Right now, the Village’s bars and clubs can stay open until 2 am on weekdays and 3 am on weekends. But that’s just an interim arrangement while city staff study the question in preparation for yet another report to council. Among the options city hall is supposed to be considering: putting the gay Village’s bars and clubs on par with the Granville Entertainment District by allowing them all to stay open until 3 am every night of the week.

But the Odyssey’s co-owner isn’t holding his breath. It looks like the city is actually planning to roll back his club’s hours, says an angry Michael Levy.

If the city proposal in his hands is any indication, he says his club-located on the eastern edge of the Village in a “designated residential area”-may soon have to close its doors at midnight on weekdays and 1 am on weekends.

“It really creates an imbalance” between the city’s gay bars and its predominantly straight Granville district, he says. “I would call it discrimination.”

It’s particularly unfair because the Davie bars never cause any problems, he notes, while Granville St was a hotbed for drunken brawls last summer. But now Granville is the district likely to end up with the later hours.

Under the city’s latest proposal, Levy says the Odyssey might be eligible for occasionally extended hours until 2 or 3 am for special events such as Pride, but it’s still unclear. “I think this proposal is extremely biased to the disadvantage the gay community,” he repeats.

“I would definitely encourage everybody who is interested in a vibrant gay nightlife in Vancouver to come to this meeting and voice their concerns.”

The city will hold an open house Wed Mar 23 at the Central Presbyterian Church at 1155 Thurlow St to discuss its proposed liquor laws for the Davie Village. Staff will be there from 4-7 pm.

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SAFE SCHOOLS LEFT BEHIND
When the BC Liberals closed the legislative session in Victoria a month earlier than necessary last week, a number of initiatives died on the table. Some never made it onto the table at all.

Gay MLA Lorne Mayencourt’s Safe Schools Act, for example, never got introduced and can’t be found on the government’s list of bills under discussion. For the last two months, Mayencourt has been touting the bill as a means of making BC’s students, including its queer students, safer.

Had it passed, it would have rectified what some critics called a deliberate oversight in the Liberals’ school safety guidelines released last year. Those guidelines encouraged BC school boards to pass codes of conduct outlining acceptable and unacceptable forms of behaviour for their students. But they didn’t specify what types of behaviour should count as unacceptable-and stopped far short of ordering school boards to specifically prohibit homophobic harassment.

Mayencourt’s bill sought to remedy part of that. It provided a list of conducts to ban-and specifically included harassment, intimidation, bullying and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Critics said Mayencourt’s bill still didn’t go far enough. Though it would have specified which behaviours to ban for school boards with codes of conduct already in place, it did not order boards without codes to implement them. That means it would have had little or no impact on boards already reluctant to introduce codes of conduct and list unacceptable behaviours.

Mayencourt had hoped to introduce his Safe Schools private member’s bill in February. Education Minister Tom Christensen reportedly told The Province Feb 27 that he agrees with the intent of Mayencourt’s bill but had not yet had a chance to take a close look at it.

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EGALE SPLIT ON C-2
The directors of Canada’s national gay lobby group Egale are having a hard time agreeing on Bill C-2.

The bill’s critics say it could criminalize consensual, intergenerational gay sex and limit some writers’ and artists’ freedom to explore topics related to youth sexuality. The bill’s supporters, mostly parents, say they’ll back any government initiative to protect children.

The bill is the latest incarnation of Bill C-12, formerly C-20, which died in the Senate when the last federal election was called.

Bill C-2’s goal, according to Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, is to “protect the most vulnerable amongst us.” It’s a multi-pronged piece of legislation, aimed in part at toughening Canada’s child porn laws and broadening its sexual exploitation laws.

Right now, the Criminal Code of Canada sets the age of consent at 14 years, which means young people can legally consent to have sex once they turn 14-unless they want to have sex with someone older than 18. Then they can only consent if they are not dependent on the older person, and if the older person isn’t in a position of trust or authority towards them.

If Bill C-2 passes, it will add one more category to that list, prohibiting sex between a 14-year-old and an over-18-year-old if the two are judged to be in an “exploitative relationship.” The bill does not define what will count as an exploitative relationship.

“What exactly is the harm that this particular provision is aimed at?” Micheal Vonn, of BC’s Civil Liberties Association, asked Xtra West last November. The law already prohibits many forms of specific exploitative acts, so why would this vague clause even be necessary?

What is the government trying to do? Vonn asked. Is it trying to prohibit any sexual relationship between people over and under 18 years? If that’s the government’s goal, then it’s out of line, she said.

“We are not focussing our energies on mounting a challenge to this,” says Egale director Gilles Marchildon.

Egale is focusing its energies almost exclusively on fighting for same-sex marriage, he notes. That bill is before Parliament. So is Bill C-2, which has moved to committee stage and is facing calls from Conservative Party MPs to further toughen it, including raising the basic age of consent from 14 years to 16 or even 18 years-virtually outlawing all sex for youth.

To fight Bill C-2 “requires an investment in time and energy we just don’t have available because we’re working on other issues,” Marchildon explains.

But “combating sexual oppression is on the agenda” for Egale’s March board retreat, he notes, adding that he expects the board will revisit the issue following a turnover in members this month.

* With files from Gareth Kirkby

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JUNO NOMINEE
The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s gay composer-in-residence may soon be the proud owner of a Juno award. Jeffrey Ryan’s piece Pangaea has been nominated for classical composition of the year. According to the VSO, “Pangaea explores density, expansion, and the evolution of structure and coherence from the full host of musical possibilities.” The Juno awards will be presented Apr 3.