3 min

Replacing the rainbow

How long till our bloody flag disappears altogether?

Is it just me, or is the West End Business Improvement Association (WEBIA) considering dumbing down the rainbow to make it more palatable to its new member areas?

Hard to say, really.

We tried to pin down the facts for this issue, but it was really challenging. For starters, Lyn Hellyar wouldn’t let our freelance reporter into WEBIA’s annual general meeting where the fate of the flags was reportedly discussed before the meeting was called for lack of attendance.

And she won’t return our calls. And most of the board members aren’t saying much.

Hellyar is the executive director of the West End Business Improvement Association. She’s the one who told Xtra West in May that she couldn’t understand why people can’t “put aside that bloody flag” for awhile.

That was after the BIA stripped every rainbow off our gay village poles to boost the triathlon.

“I support the gay community more than an awful lot of people do,” Hellyar said at the time, “and we didn’t promise that the banners would hang there forever. We promised we would preserve the identity of the gay village.”

Actually, she did promise that the banners would stay up. Repeatedly.

“We really identify with the Joe Average sun face and the Pride flag,” Hellyar told me at the BIA’s AGM in 2005. “Nobody has any intention of changing that.”

That was before the BIA expanded.

In fact, it was at that AGM that Hellyar officially announced the Davie Village BIA’s intention to move forward with its expansion aspirations to add Robson and Denman St businesses to its catchment area. “You can accomplish a whole lot more with a larger area and a larger budget,” she said at the time.

But “we’re not doing it for the money,” she hastened to add. “We’re doing it because we think it will be a benefit to the whole community.”

I had misgivings from the start.

The Davie Village BIA had grown out of the Gay and Lesbian Business Association’s desire to create a more visible gaybourhood – a home base for our community and all visiting queers where we could gather and share a sense of belonging, of family, of safety and shared space under our rainbow banners.

Hellyar assured me that the original BIA’s commitment to protecting and nurturing our gay village’s distinct identity would not be diluted under the new regime.

The BIA even passed a resolution at its 2005 AGM citing the following principle as a condition of expansion: “The governance structure will empower representatives of the existing Davie village area to determine the identity of the village.”

But before they even joined, the BIA’s new areas made it clear they were not keen to be painted with the same rainbow brush.

Three years and several rounds of assurances later, Hellyar reportedly announced at last week’s meeting that our village’s rainbow banners are coming down to be replaced by a new design one observer described as abstract, multicoloured swirls.

Rainbow colours? Perhaps. The equivalent to flying the rainbow flag that has proudly marked our community’s presence for 30 years? Mary, please.

I don’t know how you felt walking down Davie St under those generic triathlon banners but it just wasn’t the same for me. I felt as if part of my home had been stripped away. As if part of our space and visible presence had been abruptly erased by an organization that’s supposed to know better.

To be fair, Hellyar did speak to Xtra West for a moment after last week’s meeting to say the BIA is planning to put up flagpoles on Davie St, from which she will fly Pride flags.

“Our plan is to put 18 Pride flags on Davie St,” she said. “It will be much more noticeable.”

I’m suspicious. Rainbow flags on brand new flagpoles could very well be “more noticeable” and even really nice. But why put up something new when the existing banners already do such a good job of claiming our space? Why fix what isn’t broken?

Because the BIA wants to hang the same banners throughout its expanded territory and has no qualms about shifting our rainbows out of its way?

How long till our “bloody flag” disappears altogether?