Two queer artists want the owner of a gay nightclub to resign his seat on Vancouver’s LGBT advisory committee.
Odyssey owner Bijan Ahmadian made headlines Nov 23, 2015, when he sent private investigators to a competing party hosted by Vancouver’s Art and Leisure Society, then released the report and video footage to The Province. The report contains allegations of over-crowding and alcohol infractions, and the video allegedly shows people having sex at a queer party.
“I think a lot of community members don’t trust him — we don’t want him representing us,” says DJ Maxwell Maxwell. “We don’t want the mayor thinking this is what the LGBT community wants.”
Maxwell is concerned that Ahmadian may pursue his own interests, rather than advocate for the community’s needs, while sitting on the advisory committee.
“We think it’s pretty obvious he’s looking out for his own interests and he will do anything to keep his club open, even if it means selling out queer men to conservative publications to titillate their straight audience,” Maxwell alleges.
Maxwell says Ahmadian betrayed the community’s trust when he hired private investigators to photograph LGBT people at a private event without their consent or knowledge.
“Not only did he screw with young queer people doing art, and grievously violate people in safe space, but he also took the legacy of Odyssey and ran it into the ground,” he says.
Ahmadian declined Daily Xtra’s request for an interview, but did provide a written statement in which he says his concerns about safety and liquor laws, not sex, prompted his actions.
“As for the investigation project, my intent was to illustrate how liquor regulations are inconsistently enforced and therefore discriminatory against businesses that play by the rules,” he writes.
“I hoped that exposing the over-crowding in the warehouse could bring attention to BC’s archaic capacity laws, which need to be reviewed and overhauled,” he continues. “There are safety issues and business implications for all bar operators that need to be addressed. I apologize for any negative impact to my staff, our artists, and the LGBTQ+ community.”
His statement echoes an apology he posted to Facebook on Nov 26.
Drag queen Ilona Verley performed once at the Odyssey, at its Halloween party on Oct 31. She says Ahmadian’s apologies aren’t enough.
“Honestly, the least he could do to make amends is to remove himself from that board,” she says, referring to the city’s LGBT advisory committee.
“Ultimately I feel like someone like him sitting on a board like that is almost a mockery to our community, and I feel like he should resign.”
The LGBT advisory committee’s co-chairs, Drew Dennis and Rachaal Steele, declined to comment for this article. Vancouver Councillor Tim Stevenson, city council’s liaison to the committee, says any requests for Ahmadian’s resignation should be directed to Ahmadian.
“If they’re calling on him to resign, have they called him to resign?” he asks. “If they were to tell me directly that they want him to resign, I’d say, ‘Okay, have you asked him?’”
Stevenson says he is not aware of anyone ever being removed from a city advisory committee.
“Only the mayor could recommend such an action, and it would have to be to the entire council as all appointments are made by the entire council,” he explains.
“It’s not a simple matter at all,” he says. “I would think the respectful thing to do is ask the person to resign and give them the reasons. As far as I know, there’s no precedent. We have many advisory committees and this has not been raised before.”
The LGBT advisory committee made history in Vancouver when it was established in 2009 to give the queer community a voice in city hall and to improve the community’s access to city services.
Twelve people initially sat on the committee, which now has 15 seats. People interested in sitting on the committee must apply online.
Applicants can include a nomination package with letters of support. City staff send the nomination packages they receive to a committee of three city councillors appointed by council. Elizabeth Ball, Tim Stevenson and Andrea Reimer currently sit on that committee. They decide who to appoint to the city’s advisory committees in an in-camera meeting not open to the public.
In addition to Ahmadian, the following people now sit on the city’s LGBT advisory committee: Kirsten Anderson, Brendan Bailey, Metha Brown, Drew Dennis, Sabina Denton, Hélène Frohard-Dourlent, Trevor Kramer, Rob McDowell, Morgane Oger, Yogi Omar, Jenn Roberton, Barb Snelgrove, Rachaal Steele and Chase Willier.
They were appointed by council on March 3, 2015 for a two-year term ending Feb 28, 2017.