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Vancouver plaques project lacks gay sites

'Although we do our best to get out there, I don't think it was picked up by the gay community.'

A project to commemorate the “Places That Matter” to Vancouverites has come up short on gay content, but organizers are hopeful that some connections may still be found.

To celebrate Vancouver’s 125th anniversary, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation has asked residents to nominate and vote for 125 sites where plaques will be installed to recognize the people, places and events that helped shape the city.

Out of the 206 nominated sites, only one mentions any direct connection to the gay community. The Capitol 6 Theatre on Granville St is touted for its connection to the Vancouver Queer Film Festival and for making “images of queer life, made by queer people, easily and safely accessible for the first time in Vancouver.”

Diane Switzer, executive director of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, explains that the sites were all picked by nominations from the public. “I think it’s a matter of some communities and some actual sites really mobilized their stakeholders, constituents and membership to nominate,” says Switzer. “Although we do our best to get out there, I don’t think it was picked up by the gay community.”

Switzer says that gays aren’t the only group under-represented in the current batch of nominated sites, pointing to the Asian and Sikh communities.

While the nomination period has ended, Switzer suggests that some places in the current batch may have historical links to the gay community that could be recognized when the writing for the plaques is researched.

Ron Dutton, archivist for the BC Gay and Lesbian Archives since 1976, believes strongly in the importance of recognizing and documenting the past and hopes that some of the selected sites will have strong historical connections to the gay community. “Gay history matters hugely. Our story has been suppressed,” says Dutton. “It matters because people need to know where they come from; they need to know that the civil liberties they have are very recent and are in some ways very tentative because any law that can be created can be uncreated. They need to celebrate their own victories and they need to recognize the courage of the people who came before them.”

Dutton explains that before the gay liberation movement took hold, mainstream media like The Vancouver Sun and The Province considered themselves to be family newspapers and wouldn’t cover anything related to gay or lesbians. “There was a time not that long ago when gay people lived lives of necessary anonymity. They lived in a toxic world where they were highly vulnerable to losing their jobs and their families and their house and every other thing if they were ever identified as being gay.”

“The story of how people managed to survive with their dignity intact under those adverse conditions is simply absent from the public record.”

Gordon Price, a gay former city councillor and current director of the City Program at SFU, is a member of the jury who will select the final 125 sites for the plaques. Price hopes that the nominations will have connections to specific events or people and not just be based on the usual standard of architecture and design. “Place matters so much, particularly in the generation I was growing up in, where places like the West End and the Davie Village held particular resonance.”

Until April 6, 2011, people can vote for the places in Vancouver that matter to them at vancouverheritagefoundation.org.  The plaques are scheduled to be installed at the winning 125 sites in the fall of 2011 and will have a companion website detailing the locations and their relevant history.