Tim Stevenson, Vancouver’s only openly gay city councillor, secured his party’s nomination last month to seek a third term on council in the upcoming municipal election, Nov 15.
If re-elected, Stevenson says he will lobby for a stronger queer presence in city hall —something he claims the NPA, which currently holds a majority of the seats on council, has ignored.
“The NPA really have had a dreadful term, particularly in regard to the GBLT community,” he says. “The most they have done is proclaim Pride Week. Well, every administration has proclaimed Pride Week. Big deal!”
Under former COPE mayor Larry Campbell, Stevenson was appointed liaison to the queer community, a position he says he took great pride in. “As soon as the NPA came in, they shut it down,” says Stevenson, “They’ve let it go and took it for granted.”
Stevenson says that addressing the concerns of the queer community is an important task —one that should have never been pushed aside. “We turned the atmosphere toward gay and lesbian people completely around. We opened up city hall and made it a friendly, exciting and open place. We were saying to the community, ‘Welcome! It’s your city hall,'” he says.
But NPA mayoral hopeful Peter Ladner says gay issues are important to the NPA too and promises that his party’s gay city council nominee, Sean Bickerton, will play an important role in addressing queer issues if elected.
Ladner dismisses suggestions that the NPA scrambled to find what some critics have called a token gay candidate in Bickerton after refusing to let transsexual sex worker activist Jamie Lee Hamilton seek a spot on the party slate.
“Why is our gay candidate token and other gay candidates a measure of diversity?” asks Ladner.
Stevenson counters that the way the NPA campaign has been run —with the NPA allegedly approaching more than one gay candidate to join their camp —suggests the party was desperate to have some queer representation on board.
Lesbian COPE city council nominee Ellen Woodsworth agrees with Stevenson that a stronger queer voice is needed in city hall and that issues concerning the queer community must be taken more seriously.
Before the NPA won a majority in 2005, says Woodsworth, “we had leaders of the Pride movement sitting in the council chamber’s seats, talking about the past and what we wanted to do in the future.”
Woodsworth, who sat on council with COPE from 2002-2005, believes that in the last civic election it was the COPE/Vision split that led to the NPA’s renewed majority. “They [the NPA] didn’t have queer candidates and it didn’t seem to be an issue in their party,” she claims.
Stevenson and Woodsworth have both said housing, community identity and safety are key issues they hope to tackle if on council next term. Ladner says community safety also tops his agenda and confirms that the city has given the go-ahead to hire 96 new police officers for the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), which will begin to patrol this year.
During his campaign Ladner says he talked to people and became aware of community requests for more policing in the gay village. He says he has spoken to the VPD about the possibility of more police presence in the West End. “I can’t tell police what to do,” he says. “But I can bring it to their attention.”
Woodsworth would like to see a collaborative plan developed with the VPD for more policing in the gay village. She also wants the VPD to re-designate a dedicated liaison to the gay community, a position that was created after Aaron Webster’s fatal gaybashing but later axed.
“There needs to be a queer liaison for the police,” Woodsworth says.
“There needs to be funding for neighbourhood programs.
We need to help The Centre find a location that is large and physically accessible, and Pride needs to go back into city hall,” she adds, noting that Ladner has had ample time to work on any of these projects during his six years on council.