3 min

Thanks neighbours

Taking responsibility in the West End

Credit: Xtra West files

It’s 9:45 pm, the very tail end of Pride weekend 2004. And I am proud of my neighbours. There’s about a dozen of us clustered in my back alley, just west of Denman St. We’ve been drawn, in some cases, out of the tub, out of a peaceful evening, away from walking the dog, away from a soothing contemplation of what Pride means to us. We’re here for one reason. There’s a man, somewhere in the building that looms above us, and he’s yelling about fags. Spewing venom, nonsensical, yet potentially threatening belligerence. And he’s aiming it at gays, at cocksuckers, at my brothers. On Pride weekend.

Before I went downstairs, I called 911. I barely hesitated this time. It’s been growing for a year, now: my sense of entitlement to police protection. I do live in the West End, after all, where loud, homophobic assholes often wander the back alleys in search of prey. Especially in the summer. And especially during the fireworks. But that’s another story.

Right now I’m talking about Monday night, Aug 2. And the man on the fourth floor balcony. And my neighbours. My neighbours who took responsibility and poured out of their apartments to locate the source of the venom and see if anyone was getting hurt.

Craning my neck in vain, I told the dispatcher that I couldn’t see the source of the yelling from my apartment window-but I could hear him. And he sounded aggressive as hell. And he was yelling something about fucking fags. The dispatcher said she’d send a police car. And she did.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one who called 911 that night. At least five of my neighbours took it upon themselves to call the police, too. They didn’t just shut the window or turn up the volume or try to wait out the disturbance. They didn’t just sit idly by and wait to see if a brother was getting bashed. They picked up their phones and did something about it.

And then they went outside to see if they could do more.

They made me proud to live in this Village and to have them as neighbours.

I have to admit, I couldn’t decide whether to go downstairs myself. After I hung up with the dispatcher, I tried to go back to my computer. I told myself that I had done my duty and that the situation would soon be in more competent hands. I told myself that it would be foolish to risk my own safety by walking through a dark alley in search of an aggressive man yelling about queers at the top of his lungs.

I knew I was right but I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t just sit there and let a brother potentially get bashed right on my back doorstep.

Then the yelling resumed. I still couldn’t see what was going on. I couldn’t tell if the man was just yelling or if he was actually beating somebody up. All I could hear was a man, yelling something about fags. I grabbed my keys and told myself to be careful and ran down the stairs to the alley.

That’s where I found my neighbours. There was Steve, the gay education activist I’d interviewed on numerous occasions. And Karen and Shawn, from the Vancouver Pride Society board. And a handful of other people, gay and straight, that I’d never met before. A few introductions were made. Mainly we all compared notes on what we’d seen and heard. And how unacceptable it was. And how many of us had called the police.

Another woman joined us, cell phone in hand. She, too, had called the police. It seems the man was, at least in part, yelling at her from his neighbouring balcony. Calling her a gay man and a cocksucker and ordering her to go back where she came from, or something like that.

The woman was obviously shaken but undeterred. She wasn’t going to take this shit. Yesterday was Pride, for god’s sake, she pointed out.

I never even found out if that woman was gay or straight. In that moment, it didn’t seem to matter. What mattered is that she cared. And that she, like the rest of us, responded.

The police pulled up to the front of the building and within a few minutes gained entrance to the apartment. We could still hear the man, though he toned it down when the cops came.

I looked at my neighbours and smiled. I felt moved by their presence. Moved and reassured.

And damn proud.

Robin Perelle is Staff Reporter for Xtra.