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Safer parks for queers

Jenn McGinn hopes for a safe and welcoming cruising environment

Jenn McGinn Credit: Xtra West Files

Jenn McGinn has spent years working with community organizations in an effort to fill the need for accessible recreation programs. She was president of Britannia Community Centre for two years, spent six years working with women survivors of violence and their children at women’s centres, and is currently executive director of the South Granville Seniors Centre.

Now, she’s a queer candidate for the parks board in the Nov 19 municipal election.

By removing barriers to recreation, she says, the city becomes healthier spiritually and emotionally.

“Parks boards programs can both play a role in helping people strengthen their communities and creating healthier communities,” she says. “Neighbour by neighbour, communities become stronger, and the city of Vancouver becomes stronger, by having stronger neighbourhoods.”

She says parks are places where people meet their neighbours and build their communities.

But, she says, there’s a real deficiency of green spaces in the city, especially on the Eastside. With the 2010 Winter Olypics approaching, she says there are great opportunities for the city to create more recreational options.

More parks would be especially good for the queer community, says McGinn.

“There’s too much focus on the bars. That’s where we tend to go and socialize and the parks could offer a lot more options and alternatives,” she says.

McGinn acknowledges that the safety of queers using park facilities remains a problem.

“When I think of the tragedy of Aaron Webster, that certainly brings it to mind,” she says. “We need to find a balance between creating safety in our parks but also recognizing parks are where many of our gay brothers go to meet one another and hook up for sex. You don’t want to over-police that either, because you want to create an environment that’s welcoming for that type of activity.”

Queer women have also expressed fears about entering the parks, she adds.

“There’s a lot of parks that need better lighting or safety measures,” she says.

The parks board has to work with police and other authorities to make the parks safer, she concludes.

McGinn would like to see more programming for queers in the city’s community centres too, but says it’s up to the community to take an active role in ensuring they come into being.

She says program ideas are generated through the centres’ program committees and anyone can attend and present new ideas. The parks board can have a role in supporting the creation of those programs through funding or infrastructure provision.

“For queer folks out there who want to see queer programming at their community centres, I would really encourage them to get involved,” she says. “Parks staff should be supportive of that.”

People in the area should be pressing the board to make it happen, McGinn says.

The same approach applies to getting the redesign of Nelson Park in the West End moving ahead, she says.

But, she adds, it’s not a friendly park. “There’s a lot of drug users. There’s a policing issue,” says McGinn.