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Openly queer city councillors still needed: Woodsworth

Housing and free speech also priorities, she says

"Vancouver is a city that is known for people who stand up for democracy and civil liberties and freedom of expression," says Councillor Ellen Woodsworth, who is seeking reelection on Nov 19. Credit: Ellen Woodsworth

Openly gay Councillor Ellen Woodsworth says she has accomplished a lot during her time at Vancouver’s City Hall but believes there is still more work to be done.

“I’ve worked very, very hard for three years to stand up for social sustainability and civil rights, and for the LGBTQ community, women, seniors and neighbourhoods,” she says.

Woodsworth is running for reelection with the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) slate in the civic election Nov 19. She stresses the need for strong advocates for the gay community on council.

“There are queer people who’ve been elected to council who don’t advocate for the LGBTQ community,” she says. “In terms of safety, I think that it’s really important that there’s an out lesbian and out gay man at city hall and that we speak out on LGBTQ issues.”

Woodsworth disagrees with critics who argue that the fight for gay rights at the civic level is over.

“When the LGBTQ community stops being attacked and stops being killed and can safely walk in any area of Vancouver, I will say there’s no need for an out, active queer on council,” she says.

“I want to be able to safely walk down Davie St, but I also want to be able to safely walk down Fraser St, or walk along Victoria or walk along any of the streets in the city. At this point, sadly, that’s not true. Homophobia is alive and well.”

Woodsworth currently serves as one of two liaisons to the city’s gay advisory committee, the first of its kind in Canada, according to her. She is proud of the progress they have made, including, among other things, amending the city’s harassment policy to include sexual expression.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to get going for a number of years now, and we’ve been able to do a number of strong actions in support of the LGBTQ community,” she says.

“We’ve talked to engineering staff about how we can make our policies for buildings trans-friendly,” Woodsworth explains. “We’ve also talked with our housing staff about how we can make sure the queer community is safe in shelters and to try to gather statistics so we know what the situation is for our community in city facilities.”

While gay issues are important to her, she also knows there are many other important problems that need to be addressed by city hall.

In the previous term, she says, leading the fight against the proposal for an expanded downtown casino at council was very important to her. Now she wants to continue to address the problem of affordable housing.

“We’ve reduced street homelessness, but we need to do more there,” she says. “We’ve been working hard at the provincial and federal government levels, lobbying for a national housing plan. We’re the only G8 country that doesn’t have a national housing plan, and we need the federal and provincial governments back at the table to help us create a real affordable housing strategy.”

Woodsworth also lists her track record in defending freedom of speech and expression as one of her proudest achievements.

“I have fought strongly against the bylaw that was brought in that was purported to deal with the issue of Falun Gong, but in fact restricts freedom of expression for everyone,” she says.

According to Woodsworth, the first time the bylaw was used, it was against people protesting the closure of a homeless shelter.

“I have stood up in council to fight for those issues, making sure that civil liberties were respected during the Olympics.”

“Vancouver is a city that is known for people who stand up for democracy and civil liberties and freedom of expression,” she says. “It’s something that we should be very, very proud of because we in the queer community have been at the forefront of fighting for civil liberties and freedom of expression,” she says.

“I think that it’s important to have people on council who are out and who are advocates for our community, not only on LGBTQ issues, but on the broader issues of the city being a city for everyone.”