Despite promises to preserve and protect the identity of the gay village, there is now talk of the West End Business Improvement Association (WEBIA) permanently removing the existing rainbow banners from Davie St.
Xtra West, Capital Xtra’s sister paper in Vancouver, learned of the potential banner removal following the cancellation of WEBIA’s annual general meeting (AGM), Jun 26.
Jennifer Breakspear, interim executive director of the city’s gay community centre, tells Xtra West that WEBIA executive director Lyn Hellyar announced the Davie St rainbow banners would be taken down.
Breakspear, who attended the meeting as an interested community member, says the announcement came prior to the meeting being postponed because it couldn’t reach quorum.
Hellyar denied Xtra West entry to the meeting, claiming the gay community’s newspaper had not gone through the proper steps of membership application renewal to attend.
While Hellyar has not publicly confirmed when or if the current rainbow banners will come down, she did tell Xtra West outside the meeting that a plan to erect new flagpoles on Davie St is already in the works.
“Our plan is to put 18 Pride flags on Davie St,” she says. “It will be much more noticeable.”
Peter Vaisbord, BIA coordinator for the city, confirms that talks with the city regarding WEBIA’s flagpole proposal are planned.
As for the banners, Vaisbord was under the impression that Davie St would keep its existing rainbow banners and adopt a new rainbow swirl to hang alongside them.
Hellyar did not return multiple calls from Xtra West reporters seeking further information.
Breakspear, who saw the new banner’s design, confirms that it’s more of a multicoloured abstract “swirl” than a rainbow Pride flag.
Jim Deva, who sits on the WEBIA board and co-owns Little Sister’s, says he is “frustrated with the process” but declined to comment further.
The possibility of removing the rainbow Pride banners is “inexcusable” and “problematic,” says Ron Stipp, of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere.
Stipp thinks Hellyar should resign and says WEBIA needs to re-evaluate its actions if it’s considering replacing the traditional rainbow banner in the heart of the gay village.
“If they get rid of the banner in the gay village, then the WEBIA has failed,” he says.
But concerns that the gay village could lose its identity at the hands of WEBIA are nothing new.
Since the Davie Village BIA announced its plan to expand to incorporate the Denman and Robson St areas in September 2005, some gay community members have expressed concern that the merger would lead to the gay village’s identity being diluted.
Hellyar and WEBIA board members have always maintained those concerns were unfounded.
“We really identify with the Joe Average sun face and the Pride flag,” Hellyar told Xtra West at the BIA’s AGM in 2005. “Nobody has any intention of changing that.”
“They are kicking us in the teeth as a community,” exclaims Lee Casey, festivals director of the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS), upon hearing of the rainbow banners’ potential removal.
“I’m mortified,” says VPS president John Boychuk.