Vancouver
3 min

The year we re-engaged

2009 marked the beginning of a new chapter for our community

It started with Fred Phelps and it started two months early.
 
Remember the protest in the rain last November? Where hundreds of us lined the sidewalk outside the Havana like proud rainbow sentries, just in case Phelps and his Westboro wingnuts followed through on their promise to picket The Laramie Project?
 
That protest marked the beginning of 2009 for me.
 
It marked the beginning of a new chapter, of a new willingness to shake off our apathy and step into our strength. It marked the beginning of a period of sustained engagement.
 
Something had already been bubbling the night before, at Out in Schools’ Nov 27 screening of The Times of Harvey Milk, commemorating the 30th anniversary of Milk’s assassination.
 
Maybe it was the anniversary and its powerful reminder that our community was founded by activists.
 
Maybe it was the outrageousness of Phelps’ anti-gay posturing, or Abbotsford’s ridiculous refusal to let its students learn about social justice.
 
Maybe it was the recent taste of our own strength.
 
A month earlier, more than 2,000 of us had marched through the gay village hand in hand to protest Jordan Smith’s gaybashing. Such a show of community presence hadn’t been seen in Vancouver since Aaron Webster was viciously beaten to death in Stanley Park in 2001.
 
“How do we motivate our GLBT community to take to the streets?” moderator Ross Johnstone asked at the screening.
 
Piss us off, then show us our history and challenge us to shape our present. 
 
To my amazement, the audience engaged that night and responded to Johnstone’s call to action. Soon they were collectively planning a trip to Abbotsford to support the upcoming Social Justice 12 rally and promising to stand up to Phelps should he dare to make an appearance.
 
One week later, I was riding The Centre’s Priscilla Express to Abbotsford, surrounded by a busload of queers eager to take to the streets, to declare our presence and support our youth.
 
Where only a few months earlier our usual apathy had seemed entrenched and unending, suddenly we were building momentum.
 
More than 2,000 of us marched down Davie St again four months later to demand an end to gaybashings. This time the rally’s banner bore a single word: “Enough.”
 
April’s rally followed yet another gaybashing. This time, a 62-year-old man named Ritchie Dowrey was sucker punched in one of our own spaces, leaving him forever altered by severe brain damage. 
 
“He’s a faggot. He deserved it,” the man accused of assaulting Dowrey allegedly told witnesses.
 
Outraged community members held a forum on gaybashing soon after the rally. Participants packed the room — on a Saturday afternoon — to demand better police protection and a press conference from the mayor. 
 
Two months after the forum on gaybashing, participants packed another town hall, this time to envision a new multi-purpose community centre where we can gather, celebrate, socialize and share.
 
That meeting led to the formation of a working group. On Dec 15, its members registered a new society with the province to envision, fund, build and maintain a new centre.
 
“This is an historic moment,” said the group’s chair, Steven RodRozen.
 
I couldn’t agree more. We may be far from breaking ground on a new centre, but this year’s movement on long-held issues and dreams has been nothing short of groundbreaking.
 
It’s been a year of activism, of sustained engagement, of learning to work together and remembering how to do so.
 
It’s been a year of coming unstuck, of rediscovering our voices and standing up for what we want, need and deserve. 
 
Of course there is still so much to do.
 
We’ve got a community centre to build.
 
We’ve got gaybashings to eradicate, Crown counsel to motivate and judges to educate. (I don’t know about you, but when the hammer-wielding whackjob says he was sent to punish gays, that says hate crime to me.)
 
We’ve got a lot of present still to shape.
 
Here’s to 2010.