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Pride nixes 2009 fundraising plan for The Centre

Breakspear plans monthly community meetings

Jim Deva left disappointed after meeting with the festivals committee of the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) Apr 29. He had attended the meeting to discuss coordinating a joint fundraiser for both the VPS and The Centre this Pride.

In the wake of last month’s news that The Centre’s board of directors is considering relocating the facility outside the West End to cut operating costs, Deva and barbara findlay are determined to fundraise to keep The Centre in the gay village.

Neither one is working on behalf of The Centre in any official capacity.

But together they pitched a community-oriented “Pride in the Village” event which would bring Davie St businesses out onto the street during Pride weekend. Funds generated through admission would then be split between the two organizations.

VPS president Ken Coolen says the three months remaining before this year’s Pride season would not allow for the planning of such a complex fundraiser.

However, he is optimistic about working together with The Centre in the future.

“It’s definitely something we want to do,” Coolen says. “It’s just this late in the game it’s just really difficult to try and pull all of that together.”

Coolen asked Deva to come back to meet with the VPS this fall to begin discussions about Pride 2010.

 “If they’re willing to work with us next year that’s something,” says Deva, “but we need something this year to keep The Centre active and vital.”

The Centre recently came under fire for considering a move to a building near the intersection of Burrard and 7th Ave. At an Apr 16 board meeting, findlay told The Centre’s directors that such a move would “kill” the Centre.

“I do speak for other people — lots of other people — and the sense of those people is that, first of all, if you move to Burrard and 7th, you will kill The Centre. Period, full stop,” findlay warned the board.

Others have also spoken out strongly against any relocation outside of the West End.

“I can’t imagine a gay community centre not being located in what is perceived to be the ‘official’ centre of that community. True, gay people are spread out all over the city, and it’s not as if Burrard and 7th is in Timbuktu, but the message this sends is sad,” says gay community member Eddy Elmer.

“The current location, we’ve been told for years, is not acceptable to the community,” reminds Centre executive director Jennifer Breakspear. “Up until a few weeks ago, nobody wanted us where we are now.”

The inaccessibility of the Centre’s Bute St space, due to its lack of an elevator to the second-storey rooms, has been a source of concern to many for years.

Breakspear says it has always been her goal to find the best possible solution to The Centre’s financial and architectural limitations. “Trying to come to a place where we know that we’re able to continue to provide our programs and services to the community to the best of our ability, and better than we are currently,” she says, “that’s the goal.”

Raigen D’Angelo, who won the Volunteer of the Year award at the Apr 26 Xtra West Community Achievement Awards in part for her work at The Centre, supports Breakspear’s breadth of research when it comes to finding a new facility.

“I applaud Jennifer Breakspear,” D’Angelo says. “She has to make tough calls, just like any chair of an organization or director of an organization has to make — really tough calls that people may not agree with.”

Still, D’Angelo doesn’t want to see The Centre leave the West End.

As a volunteer receptionist, D’Angelo says she sees firsthand The Centre’s value to the community. “We seem to forget about the people who are just coming out,” she says. “They need help, and they’re lost and they need comforting, and they need these programs so much.

“When I meet someone who has just come to the country from Sri Lanka, or South America, or so forth,” D’Angelo continues, “they come to The Centre, they see the Pride banners on Davie St, and they feel safe.

“They feel they’re at home and they want to help, they want to volunteer, and they want to get involved. We’ve got to foster this.”

One effect of the community’s recent scrutiny of The Centre’s possible relocation plans, notes Breakspear, is the flurry of input and discussion about the responsibilities of the organization and of the community at large.

“The community wants to be more actively involved in decision-making and consultation around The Centre,” she remarks, “and I think that’s wonderful.”

Breakspear says she will begin to hold monthly meetings for concerned community members to discuss ideas and strategies for sustaining and strengthening The Centre.

For his part, Deva hopes to begin fundraising this summer, with or without the collaboration of the VPS.

“I still would like to see something during that Pride weekend,” he says. “I think that’s when people are in town, that’s when they really need to be educated about the importance of The Centre.”

Monthly contributions to The Centre would help too, D’Angelo notes. “Imagine if we were able to get 500 queer people in the city doing $10 a month. That’s $60,000 more a year that The Centre could get to ensure that it does stay in the West End.”