It was Joan-E who stole the show, of course.
The first inductee into Canada’s brand new queer hall of fame swept onto the stage in an ample red gown, curtsied to a well-deserved standing ovation and promptly poked fun at the QBall’s potentially alien mascot.
“I think this is a creature that’s going to awaken at some point,” she said, glancing back at the suspended white ball with the pink and black squiggles around the edges and the giant black Q in the middle.
Personally I thought it looked more like a detached retina hovering over the stage.
There are 10 things I know for sure today, Joan-E said, launching into the most original acceptance speech I’ve heard in a long time.
Number 10: her appreciation and respect for the other inductees. (To Olympic gold medallist Mark Tewksbury: “As long as I have a deep end, you have a place to practice your strokes!”)
Number nine: A community that doesn’t know where it’s been doesn’t know where it’s going. That’s why recognizing our pioneers through institutions like Canada’s new queer hall of fame are critical. It’s a history lesson, she said.
Number eight: When everything seems to be falling to pieces “it is the drag queens who will save the day.”
And speaking of queens, they have much in common with fundraising cheques: ample figures are always preferable. (That was number six. I’m skipping around a bit now.)
Number five struck a sombre note on AIDS: “We must, we must, we must find a cure for AIDS,” she said.
Then there was number seven: A community that stands in difference is weaker, she said. “United we stand, divided they’ll pick us off one by one.”
I’ve heard Joan-E share that particular bit of wisdom before. During her powerful speech at last October’s anti-violence march following Jordan Smith’s gaybashing, for example. But tonight, it took on a different meaning.
“How great it is to be in a room full of us,” said Patrick O’Reilly, as he posthumously inducted former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau for decriminalizing gay sex 40 years ago.
“It’s so nice to be in a room full of our community, embracing each other, supporting each other, celebrating each other,” the head of Canada’s new human rights museum elaborated after the ceremony.
Based in Winnipeg, O’Reilly had flown in that day to take part in the hall of fame’s launch. He was impressed with the turnout and the cross-section of the gay community he thought it represented.
I was less impressed. Only 150 people from our entire community thought our first hall of fame was worth launching together.
Did the pricey tickets deter people? Was it the usual apathy? Poor publicity? Or was there something more? Did the event’s connection to Qmunity (the selected beneficiary and future home of the hall’s memorabilia) keep some people from attending?
I hope not.
It’s no secret I’m determined to see more than social services in our new community centre and skeptical of Qmunity’s vision, but that doesn’t mean we should shun the organization. I hope they’ll be an integral part of whatever multi-purpose facility we create.
I spoke to Qmunity’s executive director, Jennifer Breakspear, just days before the QBall. She says she fully supports the creation of a multi-purpose community centre.
Qmunity’s mandate is more narrowly focused on providing programs and services, she says, but if people want a queer community centre with a theatre in which to screen our films and spaces in which to gather and celebrate our culture, then she’ll support them.
“If there is a will, a spirit and an energy to make this happen, I’m thrilled,” she says.
I’ll be thrilled too. I think we can make it happen and I think Qmunity needs to be one of many groups at the table.
The hall of fame’s launch is an important reminder of what we can accomplish individually and together. “What an extraordinary opportunity for our community to know we’re not done yet,” Thomas Dolan reflected after the ceremony. “It’s a call to me and to the collective community to do more.”
United we stand, divided they’ll pick us off one by one.