Opinion
2 min

The Qmunity consortium

Imagine the community centre we could build if we trust each other

This image is an excerpt of the diagram Qmunity (then called The Centre) presented, after months of community consultation in 2007, of the services it hoped to include in an ideal community centre. Then, too, people signalled a wish for a café, performance and social spaces. Credit: Xtra files

Now that city council has passed the gayest West End plan ever and prioritized building us a new community centre, it’s time to talk about what that centre should look like.

It’s a discussion we’ve been having off and on for years, with mostly frustrating results. Bogged down by community politics, narrow visions and territoriality, our community’s periodic surges of enthusiastic brainstorming have, in the past, tended to fizzle.

But that was before the $7 million.

It’s far from a done deal, but if Jim Pattison’s latest redevelopment proposal is approved, the price tag will include a sizable gift for us. I’m not sure how far $7 million will actually get us in Vancouver’s downtown real estate market, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction and a significantly larger step than anyone has offered us before.

City council has named Qmunity as the intended recipient and asked it to spearhead the new centre. When I first heard that, I had misgivings, and, to be honest, I still do. Qmunity’s track record on consultation is poor, and many community members consider it irrelevant and uninspiring.

But we’re being offered an opportunity here, at least potentially. We can squander it with distrust and fight among ourselves for control of the new building, or we can acknowledge and pool our strengths to create a vibrant and relevant shared space.

I suggest we find ways to share our power, resources and expertise so we can build something bigger than the mandate of any single organization.

Qmunity, with its years of experience running valuable programs on a shoestring budget, is probably well suited to steward the new centre — as long as it collaborates with other groups to create a space that’s more than just a series of support groups for our most vulnerable community members.

Don’t get me wrong: the groups that Qmunity runs are essential. But when Xtra hosted a town hall in 2009 to envision a new centre, speaker after speaker called for a performance space, recreational space, casual spaces in which to socialize, a café, a clinic, a garden, a seniors’ centre, a library, accessible archives and even a portrait gallery to celebrate our pioneers. They called for a truly multipurpose place of celebration, a “bustling, fun-filled” space worth spending time in.

Picture opening night of the Queer Film Festival every day of the year.

Some of those services Qmunity’s already got well in hand. Others, like the arts and recreational spaces, they will need a hand to envision and execute.

Not a problem if we create a consortium, ask Qmunity to anchor it, then invite other community groups to join. Maybe the Bobbers comedy troupe, so often in search of a new home, could run the performance space? Maybe Little Sister’s could run the café? Maybe the Health Initiative for Men could move in and run the clinic?

Imagine what we could create if we actually worked together.

Qmunity’s new board co-chair and new executive director both seem potentially open to the idea. The new ED says she sees Qmunity as “a hub for everyone in the queer community” and hopes the new centre “will serve as an anchor for all different types of queer organizations and services.”

Does Dara Parker’s vision include a consortium of shared power? Too soon to say.

“Our first step is to secure the commitment from the city and then the actual money and land to build a facility,” she says. “Once that is secured, Qmunity will be consulting with the community on ideas for the new facility.”

Not quite the path to a consortium that I envisioned, but if we all give each other the benefit of the doubt, we might just get the community centre of our dreams.