Councillor Tim Stevenson is still scratching his head over city council’s decision to reject his motion creating a new citizens’ advisory committee dedicated specifically to gay issues, Nov 2.
“I have no idea how they can justify opposing the creation of an LGTB committee,” says Stevenson, who is gay. “With such a large LGTB community in Vancouver, it is important that the city is constantly moving forward to make our city more inclusive.
“Quite a number of people have spoken to me over the years that I’ve been on council who have asked why we don’t have a separate committee, like the women’s committee, that is just for our community concerns,” he adds.
The City of Vancouver has more than 20 citizens’ advisory committees handling a broad range of topics, from fire and rescue services to public art. Each committee is given a budget of $10,000 and is comprised of volunteers who are appointed by council, and may also include elected members of council, the school board and the park board as liaisons. The gay community’s needs are the responsibility of the advisory committee on diversity issues, which also represents the city’s multicultural and aboriginal communities.
“There’s one person there right now who’s from our community, that’s all,” says Stevenson. “She’s just sitting, listening to all of the issues. When there’s [one] that’s pertinent to our community she has to convince all of them that [it] is important to take up. It’s only one small portion of her time because they have so many others.”
The gay community needs its own committee, he argues, because it “needs to be in direct dialogue with council about things like police, bashing, what Davie St is going to look like over the next several years, transgender issues–a large number of issues that really should have representation.
“There is no argument as to why an LGTB committee cannot be created,” Stevenson maintains. “Citizens’ committees are made up of volunteers, so it costs pennies to run them. We have a bike committee. We have a public art committee. Surely the LGTB community deserves a place at city hall to have their issues addressed.”
According to Stevenson, the advisory committees play an important role in the running of city hall. “They advise council on matters pertaining to real issues,” he says. “They can bring in recommendations to pass bylaws, and would do all the work and research [to] bring that forward. That’s fairly significant.”
Stevenson’s motion came in the wake of a year-long review of Vancouver’s citizens’ advisory committees. Council launched the review after the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) won a majority of seats in the November 2005 municipal election.
As a result of that evaluation, council moved to abolish five citizens’ committees, four of which no longer had any members. It also moved to consolidate the seniors’ and disability issues committees into a newly formed accessibility committee.
Stevenson introduced his motion to add a gay committee immediately after the NPA brought forward its motions.
Stevenson says the NPA “didn’t even debate” his motion. “They didn’t make one single, solitary noise, and yet when it came to voting, every single one of them put their hands up saying ‘no’–including the mayor.”
Even now Stevenson says he’s unclear about why his motion was defeated. “I’ve only read press comments after from [Councillor] BC Lee who said, ‘It was ill-timed.’ Well, what the heck was he talking about? What’s a better time?
“They had no rationale, none whatsoever, which I found really aggravating.”
Lee says Stevenson’s motion took him by surprise.
“We were discussing all the advisory committees, then during our debate and consultation Councillor Stevenson just throws out, ‘I motion to set up a new committee,’ without mandate, without any notice.
“It was very late in the evening,” Lee continues, “and it was just sort of ‘Look, say yes or no,’ so we vote it down.
“The diversity committee is dealing with the gay and lesbian communities,” Lee points out, “so I was puzzled at how are we going to make the difference. It was Councillor Stevenson just saying it on the floor without any implications of what the mandate is, and what kind of change we will bring to the diversity committee.
Lee says he would welcome any new citizens’ advisory committee, provided its mandate is clear and the implications for existing committees well thought out. “If that’s clearly stated, and the diversity committee agreed to split out lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual communities, I am more than happy to take a look at it.”
For the past three years, Jackie Haywood has served as the LGBT representative on the diversity advisory committee, though she’s missed the last several months due to personal health reasons. She is uncertain whether a gay-specific committee is necessary.
“I am not aware of a gap that needs to be filled,” she says, “but the more that we’re visible and we sit at a table is always helpful.
“When I speak at my committees, I’m respected,” she notes. “I feel listened to and that our issues [are] just as important as anybody else’s around the table. We’re always included. It’s a really comfortable place because the committee is not adversarial.”
Still, Haywood says she’s disappointed the NPA defeated Stevenson’s motion. “I have so much confidence and respect for Tim. I would like to hear more as to what the reasons were; I wasn’t there.”
“I’m going to continue to work on this,” Stevenson promises. “There’s really a definite need of such a committee to be working directly with the police as a liaison looking at hate crimes, queer bashing, all that kind of stuff.”