4 min

Our turn at bat

Off to a good start with COPE

It’s started already. The new COPE municipal government has taken a few key steps that demonstrate that they may actually live up to their promises to the gay community.

Tim Stevenson has been appointed Mayor Larry Campbell’s personal liaison with small business and tourism companies. This puts him in a great position to fight the dense tangle of idiotic rules and regulations that stack the deck against small businesses, including our bars, tubs and restaurants. (Stevenson appointed Jim Deva, of Little Sister’s to the small business advisory committee and you can bet Deva’s going to keep the fire lit under Stevenson and COPE.)

Stevenson has also been appointed liaison to the gay community and Ellen Woodsworth, who is also vice-chair of the budget committee, has been appointed liaison to the lesbian community.

Key to many of our issues will be getting through to Anne Roberts, chair of the planning and environment committee, which oversees zoning and liquor licence approvals. Within months, we should know whether Roberts is going to be viewed as Luke Skywalker or as Darth Vader within our community. Her predecessor, Lynne Kennedy, did a pretty stunning imitation of Vader before hanging up her light sword prior to the last election.

So far there’s no progress on COPE’s promise to implement a genuine version of community policing in Vancouver. You’d think consultations with minority communities would at least have been announced by now.

The COPE school trustees will soon set up a queer advisory committee to the board and move, full steam ahead, on making schools safe for queers and implementing gay-friendly curriculum.

We’ll drop in on COPE parks board members soon to check their progress on redesigning Nelson Park in direct consultation with the gay community, involving queers more directly in community centres, installing phones (but not lights) in parks, and helping us set up a permanent shelter in memory of Aaron Webster.

At Xtra West, we’ve assigned a freelancer to cover city council and another the school board and parks board. We’re making it a priority to hold COPE accountable for the promises they made us all.

Tim Stevenson says he’s posted my column of last month detailing the promises COPE candidates, including Larry Campbell, made to lesbians and gays. He told me that he intends to work through the list. I suggested that should keep him busy for a year, by which time he’ll need new lists for the following two years. It’s our community’s time at bat and we’re settling for nothing less than the opportunity for a home run.

I’m still disappointed that Alan Herbert and Duncan Wilson failed to get elected to city council. Herbert’s an idea factory and someone who so profoundly understands the challenges of both gay businesses and the way planning policies can be used to nurture a community. Wilson proved himself an able overseer and agent of change in his time on the parks board and his facility with budgeting would have helped keep COPE sharp and frugal with our tax money.

They both have excellent skills that our community must find a way to quickly tap. Take the Pride Society, for example. The folks who put on our most important yearly celebration are somewhere around $30,000 in the hole, desperate for board members and volunteers, and in dire, and I mean dire, need of people with first-rate organizational skills, a facility with money, and a thick rolodex.

The Pride Society needs a new president with well-honed administrative skills. Wilson and Herbert spring immediately to mind as perfect fits. Herbert has done his time at the Society, building up his credibility in the gay community and using that to launch his successful 1996 municipal election campaign. Maybe he’d consider a second go? Wilson hasn’t done his time working within the gay community. This would be a perfect chance to help when the community needs it the most. And he could build himself a political machine within our community.

The federal NDP is about to pick a new leader, someone who they pray-well, they did start as a Christian temperance movement, after all-will get them more attention than the previous yawners, Audrey McLaughlin the First and Audrey McLaughlin the Second aka Alexa McDonough.

Personally, I’m intrigued by Jack Layton’s candidacy. In the interests of full disclosure, I must note that I know Layton and even worked with him on the Coalition for a Green Economic Recovery, an Ontario environment-industry group he co-founded. I’ve often wished there were more politicians like him.

He’s always been a straight friend of the Toronto gay community, acting as auctioneer for an annual AIDS fundraiser, speaking out against police abuse and the Pussy Palace raid two years ago, supporting the queer Buddies in Bad Times Theatre against municipal funding cuts and the Christian Right.

I recall one Toronto Pride Parade-in 1992, I think. While other politicians were by then seeking some press attention by marching in the parade, Jack and his politically talented wife, Olivia Chow, took another approach. They climbed atop a bus shelter, Jack wearing no shirt and ever-so-tight spandex bicycle shorts, and dirty-danced with each other while clapping and cheering the queers marching by in the parade.

‘Nuff said. This one’s different. He’ll have an impact.

Bought your Aaron Webster memorial 2003 calendar yet? If not, please consider doing so. Every donation (I suggest $5-10) brings Aaron’s friends closer to a memorial to him in Stanley Park. We’d all like to see it, wouldn’t we?

So far, they’ve raised $1,172. They need another $1,600 to replace a shelter and bench near where he was killed.

You can buy one at most bars and restaurants on Davie, as well as Little Sister’s. There will be a “bar blitz” on Jan 17 and 18, and a table set up outside Little Sister’s on Jan 18 and 19.

Please dig deep.

Gareth Kirkby is Managing Editor for Xtra.