More than 2,000 gay men, lesbians and their allies took back Vancouver’s West End on Sunday, shutting down Davie St and marching to demand an end to gaybashings and the violence that continues to target our community.
The march comes just weeks after Vancouver’s latest high profile gaybashing that left a 62-year-old man in hospital with severe brain damage. Shawn Woodward, 35, is facing one count of aggravated assault in connection with the incident.
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Ritchie Dowrey is “still lying voiceless and non-responsive,” his friend Lindsay Wincherauk told the crowd assembled at English Bay. “Our dear friend will never be the same again.
“If this crime is not punished accordingly, we all lose something,” Wincherauk added to loud applause.
“We must be the voice because at this time Ritchie cannot speak for himself. So each one of us must ensure that his voice never goes silent.”
“Having rallies like this tells people our community is no longer going to suffer in silence,” said Denise Norman, whose cousin Aaron Webster was brutally gaybashed and left to die in Stanley Park in 2001.
Three people were eventually convicted of manslaughter in Webster’s case. Crown counsel did not seek a hate crime designation for any of them.
“Have you had enough? Are we going to send a message that the violence must end?” Vancouver-Burrard’s gay MLA, Spencer Herbert, asked the crowd.
Vancouver has seen five gaybashing trials in the last eight years. Only once has the Crown sought a hate crime designation, Herbert pointed out, asking the crowd to send Crown a message that gaybashings must be treated as hate crimes and stiffer sentences sought.
“Have you had enough?” Herbert repeated to a full-throated “yeah” from the crowd.
“The Vancouver Police Department will continue to aggressively investigate all instances of hate-motivated violence,” promised inspector John deHaas of the police department’s diversity section.
And if there is evidence of hate motivation, the police will ask the Crown to pursue the case accordingly, deHaas added.
“Gaybashings must stop. The underlying homophobia must be eradicated. It is a cancer,” deHaas told the crowd to much applause.
BC’s attorney general still fails to recognize gaybashings as hate crimes, noted lesbian MLA Jenn McGinn. “The attorney general needs to be pressed to recognize them as such.”
McGinn said a vote for her and the NDP in next month’s provincial election will help ensure gaybashings are prosecuted as hate crimes in BC.
“Fuck! I’m mad! I am pissed off! We need to get together and formulate a game plan so this can stop,” said Velvet Steele, of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere (WEAVE).
“Enough is enough,” she said, urging people to attend WEAVE’s community forum on violence May 2 at Pulse nightclub on Davie St.
In the 33 years since he came out, gay city councillor Tim Stevenson says he can’t remember a year without at least one gaybashing.
“We turned our attention to get our rights. We can now turn our attention to violence and say enough to these hate crimes,” Stevenson told the crowd.
“William Ritchie Dowrey. That’s why we’re here,” Joan-E reminded everyone. “That gentleman is still in the hospital. He can’t come down and enjoy this moment, this Stonewall on the Bay, if you will.”
The gay community is still fighting a war on two fronts, Joan-E said. “The first is AIDS and the second is homophobia. It’s the second one with which we deal today.”
The best way to get change and end the violence, Joan-E said, “is to infiltrate from within and by that I mean winning over the minds of the children of British Columbia.”
These kids are still hearing hate, she said, be it from parents, preachers or politicians.
The community must go into the schools, she urged. Out in Schools is already doing it, hosting movies and anti-homophobia workshops for youth. “We should fund those programs.”
We need to “foster a relationship” with the children of British Columbia, she repeated. “That’s where we can start to effect change.”
“But today,” she said, “it’s all about Ritchie. He got attacked in his home” at the Fountainhead Pub.
“Let’s please, please pray that we don’t ever have to do another one of these [rallies] ever again,” Joan-E concluded.
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