I guess I was naïve to think that an invitation-only meeting with the mayor would yield any concrete commitments for the queer community.
“One of my 5 goals for a better Vancouver is to ensure that this is the most accessible and inclusive city in Canada,” Sam Sullivan’s invitation began. “There is work to be done to ensure all members of the GLBT community are welcomed, included and respected in all facets of our city.”
It’s the hottest day of the year and a dozen of us have now gathered in the mayor’s office. Sullivan begins with a summary of his first four goals and all the hard work he’s done on each. But the “key file” for me, he says, is “inclusiveness.”
“Every citizen has a place, every citizen is valued,” Sullivan tells us, adding that just yesterday council approved a new multicultural centre to provide shared space for communities too small to build their own.
Then he says he wants to “move along” with regard to our own queer community centre, and trots out the old story about the time he tried to access The Centre’s services but couldn’t get up the stairs.
Sounds promising so far.
Then he invites us all to introduce ourselves, which frustrates me because I want to hear more about what the city can do for The Centre. Not surprisingly, group plugs ensue and the meeting loses focus.
“The world arrives in 2010,” Sullivan says when he regains the floor. “What kind of a city do you want them to find?”
I sit forward in my seat once again, eager to hear whatever queer-friendly proposals he seems poised to make.
Turns out he’s asked the Olympic people for three days with the torch and he wants to include our community in the ceremonial jog. It’s a real community-building moment, he says, and he wants us to be part of it.
That’s nice and all, and I really do appreciate it, but I thought we were going to talk about something more substantial. Of course, the importance of visibility and symbolic inclusion can’t be overestimated. But there’s a fine line between meaningful gestures and token tips of the torch.
The discussion meanders, touching on homelessness and rising rents in the West End.
Then Councillor Kim Capri stands up and asks: “What are some policies or operational issues we should be working on that would serve your community?”
“It would be really great to have a GLBT committee to council,” says Out on Screen director Drew Dennis.
We need a regular forum with the city, Dennis explains, not just one hour-and-a-half-long meeting. The diversity advisory committee is not enough. A GLBT committee is “worthy of standing alone as its own committee.”
Council rejected just such a motion last November, when gay councillor Tim Stevenson pitched it saying the gay community needs to be in “direct dialogue” with the city on issues like the future of Davie Village.
Now Sullivan tells the meeting that he prefers task forces to committees. When I push him afterwards he says “that will definitely be considered on the list of requests.”
Usually these meetings are precursors to something, he continues, but he doesn’t want to commit.
The Centre, however, is something that he’s “quite interested in,” he adds.
That’s encouraging since The Centre’s new director, Michael Harding, asked the mayor to consider supporting a mixed-use model with a performance space, a café, maybe some condos. “We’d love to talk to you about a fabulous building,” he said.
After the meeting, I ask Harding if he’s disappointed by the lack of response. “Well, I didn’t expect him to say, ‘Yeah, we’ll give you $20 million for a new building.’ We had a positive response and that’s all we can hope for.
“They wouldn’t have had a meeting if they weren’t intent on doing something,” he adds.
The meeting’s most concrete commitment came from Councillor BC Lee, who leapt at the chance to offer gay sensitivity training to operators of city hall’s new 311 access system. “I’ll make sure they’re trained to be sensitive to gay and lesbian callers,” he volunteered in response to requests to weave our presence into all city policies.
That’s great, really, and Lee seems like an ally. But I’m still waiting to hear from our host.