I went to a party last Saturday night and seized the opportunity to turn the conversation towards The Centre. (Yes, it is a miracle anyone ever invites me back!)
“What would an ideal gay community centre look like to you?” I asked.
To say I was met with blank stares from the intelligent women surrounding me on the couch would be inaccurate. These were community leaders, each deeply engaged in their own ways. They weren’t blank; they were indifferent.
One told me she felt no connection to The Centre on Bute St. Another said she had dropped in once or twice but never felt welcome let alone like she belonged.
Their answers hardly surprised me. It’s a pretty common refrain in our community.
The Centre seems to have lost not only the confidence of the vast majority of community members it’s meant to serve, but their interest as well. Many people don’t even know we have a gay community centre in Vancouver.
It’s hard to motivate people to participate in re-envisioning something whose absence they no longer notice.
I don’t blame them. To be perfectly honest, some days it’s hard for me to keep turning the conversation back to The Centre too.
We, as a community, have been talking about The Centre and its shabby space and insufficient presence for as long as I can remember. It seems the more we talk about it, the less it changes.
The truth is I’m sick of this discussion. I’m sick of talking about something that never changes.
So let’s change it ourselves.
Let’s stop waiting for The Centre’s board of directors to build us a space we can gather in. Let’s stop asking the board to call a public consultation so we can envision that space together.
Let’s stop shrugging and occasionally begging for a place at the table — and build the table ourselves.
There are models out there to consider and reason enough to consider them.
Look at Tulsa, Oklahoma’s gay community centre. It has a 200-seat event centre, an art gallery, an archival history project, meeting rooms, a library and a large living room where gay-themed television plays all day. It even has a gift shop.
Can you imagine what we could do with a space like that? I’m picturing a building with Little Sister’s and a café on the ground floor, a theatre for gay plays and performances, not to mention the queer film festival, on another floor, meeting rooms for groups of all kinds, a library, archives, a clinic and a communal living room. A place to gather, to hang out, to connect, to reflect, to celebrate who we are and everything we share. A hub to call home.
I say it can be done.
I say we can do it. All of us, working together.
But let’s stop leaving it to The Centre’s board of directors. I believe they mean well but they’ve had their turn. Now it’s ours.
It’s time to create a consortium of community groups and leaders to get this project off the ground.
It’s time to take matters into our own hands.
The Jewish community centre is run by a federation of groups and I think they’ve got the right idea. I’m not proposing a coup; I don’t want to push The Centre’s directors out of the picture entirely. They should absolutely be part of whatever we create. They have accumulated a significant amount of knowledge over the years and they run some essential services and programs that I’d be loathe to lose.
They should definitely have a seat at the table. One seat among many.
The Centre’s co-chair, Craig Maynard, has already accepted my invitation to attend our town hall on Jul 9. I hope you will too. Bring all your gay friends and neighbours. We’ve got a community centre to build.