There’s a magnificent tradition in our community: when a person or organization encounters discrimination, we challenge it on behalf of our community.
When Little Sister’s staff, for example, realized the bookstore was being picked on by Canada Customs because it sold books to the gay and lesbian community, well, they would have none of it. The owners, managers and staff devoted a large chunk of their lives-and truly troubling amounts of money-to fighting government censorship on behalf of us all.
Our movement as we know it is only 35 or so years old. But lately, not a week seems to go by without some legal, cultural or political step forward, some new development won by individuals or groups on behalf of, or benefiting, our community.
Xtra West just won something-small by the standards of the Little Sister’s case-on behalf of our community, and all minority communities in Vancouver. Over the past few years, we’d become increasingly frustrated with city staff ignoring our community when purchasing ads. We’re not talking about just any ads, of course, but information that encouraged citizens to get involved in the civic life of Vancouver. Those that inform citizens of how to join an official city committee or otherwise volunteer to get involved at city hall, or about how to find out about city programs, or how to access celebration grants. Information about art in the community, about programs for substance misuse prevention, about buildings in the West End that city hall would like to fill with not-for-profit groups.
At Xtra West, we think it’s vital that lesbians and gays be invited to participate. And we’re aware, from our readers surveys, that most of you realize that an ad in Xtra West is one specifically reaching out to you, encouraging your participation. Perhaps it’s the same with other traditionally marginalized and politically ostracized groups. At Xtra West, we wondered why city hall wouldn’t walk their talk when it came to their official city mission “to create a great city of communities which cares about its people, its environment and the opportunities to live, work and prosper.”
We took our concerns to city hall in March. It turned out that the city had not updated its advertising policy significantly since 1957-yes, you read that right. Of course, the whole world has changed since 1957, including the city’s mission statement.
We met resistance from city staff. But most city councillors understood the issue, and asked for a reworking of the 47-year-old advertising policy to better reflect the multicultural Vancouver of today, including one where out and proud gays and lesbians are invited to participate in political processes.
The resulting staff report returned to council Jul 8 for discussion. We were there, asking for the language to be tweaked to ensure the best possible outreach to minority communities. City council did its job-adopting the report, asking for a follow-up report in six months detailing how spending has changed to better target involvement of Vancouver’s minority communities, and asking that key departmental staff be educated about the need to reach out even if it costs a bit more.
Gay councillors Tim Stevenson and Ellen Woodsworth were very helpful and asked excellent questions of staff and Xtra West. Other COPE councillors, particularly David Cadman, were also very supportive. The vote was nearly unanimous, with NPA councillor Sam Sullivan also voting in favour. But we were shocked by NPA councillor Peter Ladner as he tried to slime Stevenson for championing changes to the ad policy. Though Ladner later apologized, and then declared a conflict of interest because he has a financial stake in Business In Vancouver publication, his behaviour highlighted everything that was wrong with the way his party, the NPA, historically treated the gay community. And exactly why our community voted so overwhelmingly for COPE last civic election.
Apparently, the NPA hasn’t learned anything. Ladner needs to get better advice from within the gay community if the NPA has any hopes of taking back some of that vote.
The city’s policy change will mean, perhaps, a couple of thousand dollars a year in city advertising spent on Xtra West-clearly our move is not motivated by money. We pursued it because we want to see our community, and other minority communities, invited to participate fully in the city’s political life. We want your immense talent tapped to make the city even better.
It’s our gift to you. Happy Pride.
Gareth Kirkby is Managing Editor for Xtra.