4 min

The Centre considers moving out of the gay village

Community members outraged

ALL OPTIONS STILL OPEN. Centre co-chair Craig Maynard (left with board member Rebecca Shields) refused to rule out moving The Centre out of the West End, Apr 16. Credit: Natasha Barsotti photo

Queer community members were swift to condemn the potential relocation of The Centre outside of the West End, saying the move would lead to the death of the organization.

“Everybody’s reaction is, ‘They’re going to do what?’ in various tones of alarm, dismay and ‘No, no, they can’t possibly do that,'” lawyer barbara findlay told The Centre’s board of directors Apr 16.

“I do speak for other people — lots of other people — and the sense of those people is that, first of all, if you move to Burrard and 7th, you will kill The Centre. Period, full stop,” findlay warned the board, which met at co-chair Craig Maynard’s home in the West End.

“The result of moving The Centre would be that the community itself is degraded by your loss,” findlay further cautioned.

“Because we are a relatively insular community and we will come to the West End — we will go to Little Sister’s, we’ll go to The Centre, we’ll go to the activities that are down here at the bars — but a little outpost on 7th and Burrard just is not going to be enough of a draw to take anybody over the bridge,” she said.

Findlay also challenged the suggestion that the Burrard location would be more accessible, pointing out that the street grade would be too steep for people to wheel up or come down. “Effectively, there’s no advantage from a physically-accessible point of view,” she said.

She said it’s important to locate a community centre where the community is. 

“You wouldn’t put the Croatian community centre in Surrey,” she said.

“What I’m here to say to you is you can die a slow death financially or you can commit suicide,” she added.

Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva also attended the meeting. He said having The Centre in the Davie Village is vital to “a viable LGBT core.”

Deva proposed a fundraising plan that would see Pride weekend used to raise money for The Centre. He said he has approached the Pride Society about the plan.

“Let’s really bring The Centre to Pride and when people are in that mood of ‘what can you do, how can you do it?’ — that’s the time to nail them and get them supporting you,” Deva said.

“You can’t be The Centre in isolation,” former city councillor Alan Herbert told the board. “They are diametrically opposed.”

“You are not the community centre. The community centre is the community’s. You are the stewards of the community centre. That’s what you are,” Deva said.

“Be very, very careful,” he warned, “that the community centre progresses and you’re not the board that ends the community centre.”

“Nobody wants more to keep The Centre alive than this board,” said The Centre’s executive director Jennifer Breakspear.

“You all have been giving us hell about that [current Bute and Davie] location for years,” she pointed out. “Those stairs? Those stairs are a shame. Every time I greet a visitor in that place, I’m ashamed of those stairs. This is something we’ve taken flak for from this community for years.

“We need accessible street-level space we can be proud of from which we can deliver our programs and services for our community. That’s what we’re about,” Breakspear emphasized.

“We’re not looking to do any damage to the Davie Village or this community,” she further stressed. “We’re looking to continue to enhance this community. If there were space to do that right now in the Davie Village, we’d be all over that,” she said.

“And if — and this is an if, it’s not a done deal — if The Centre moves out of the Davie Village, it would always be with the intent of returning, to a true beautiful home of our own. It would never be a permanent move,” Breakspear promised.

“This board has never considered that as a possibility,” she continued. “It is always to come home again — if we have to leave, and we don’t know yet whether we do,” she said.

Breakspear said the board is examining its options because it needs to cut its operating costs, but said thus far there were no architecturally appropriate sites in the West End. She said  “shutting [the board] at the gate” while it explores its possibilities is shortsighted.

“It’s not accurate to say there are no architecturally appropriate sites,” findlay countered.

Not street-level sites, Breakspear fired back.

Trying to cut The Centre off in a process of exploration doesn’t serve the community, Breakspear reiterated.

“I’m hearing you say, ‘barbara, you’re fucking it up,'” findlay replied. ‘Here you’ve gone, you’ve released all this information that we were trying to keep confidential. It’s going to make it really hard for us to negotiate with anybody, and who are you to say that the consideration of all the options that we’ve made carefully and with the best information we can gather is a wrong decision for the community.’

“All I’m here to tell you is the reaction of the people of the community,” findlay said. “And I am here to tell you that in the strongest possible terms.”

Findlay then asked the board to reject the Burrard and 7th option and announce to the community that it won’t be moving out of the West End.

Maynard refused.

“I know we’re not going to have a decision tonight,” he told Xtra West after the meeting.

Asked if locations outside the West End are still on the table, Maynard says every option is under consideration. “Wherever we can make the best use of our resources. It’s about the people that we serve.”