3 min

Victory for the community

Union and VPD prioritize gay programs coordinator

Credit: Rosamond Norbury

Det Roz Shakespeare bursts into a fit of uncharacteristic giggles. But these aren’t the nervous giggles of a frustrated person; these are giggles of glee.

It is Wed, Dec 17. Shakespeare has just heard that, whether the union re-hires her or not, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) will maintain the gay programs coordinator position she created-and make staffing it a priority.

“I’m absolutely delighted!” she exclaims, laughing out loud.

“It’s an incredibly powerful message for the citizens of Vancouver and police departments across the country.”

It means the VPD cares, she says. It means they care about their gay citizens and want to enhance their safety.

“What was a temporary position is now permanent,” Shakespeare continues. “It’s going to be filled, the work will continue. And that’s really huge.”

The next day, Shakespeare gets more good news: the union has finally accepted her proposal (the latest in a series of five). Starting this January, she will return on a four-month contract to help find and mentor the next gay programs coordinator for the VPD.

Shakespeare created the VPD’s first-ever, full-time gay programs coordinator position last November. She divided its duties between offering the community a trustworthy officer to turn to in times of need, establishing programs to make streets safer for queers, and educating the rest of society about gay needs and rights.

Shakespeare planned to fill the position for two years, long enough to get all her projects well underway and then find a successor to take over the position.

But an unexpected pension plan change forced her to retire early-and plunged the groundbreaking position’s future into uncertainty.

Now that uncertainty seems to be over. Not only has the VPD entrenched the gay coordinator position and made it permanent-but the union has agreed to allow Shakespeare to return long enough to mentor its next occupant.

This is a victory for the gay community, Shakespeare says. “The community fought hard for this position to be maintained.”

It’s also “great for me,” she adds, and great for the position itself. “I’m pretty excited about the whole deal.”

So, it would seem, is Insp Val Harrison, who has supported Shakespeare throughout the negotiations. “I’m very pleased,” says the West End’s new commander, a smile clearly evident in voice.

Even before the union decided, Harrison took matters into her own hands and made the gay coordinator a permanent part of VPD structure.

“I’m committed to having a person in the position-and having a good person to continue the work,” she says.

“I think we need to send a message that this really matters to us.”

The VPD already has several full-time liaison positions to other minority communities, such as the Indo-Canadian and First Nations communities, Harrison notes. Formalizing the gay coordinator position “legitimizes it [and] puts it on an even footing with the other community liaison jobs.”

Harrison wasted no time posting an ad for the new position on the VPD’s internal job board. She’s hoping to fill it in the next few weeks.

So far, no one has come forward to apply, but Harrison won’t be discouraged. If no one comes forward by January, “we’ll start approaching people,” she says, noting that she wants to find someone who will commit to the position for at least a couple of years.

“I think the community would like that, too,” she says. “I don’t think anybody wants to see a revolving door.”

Harrison says she’s glad the union agreed to let Shakespeare return for four months to help train the new coordinator. “I didn’t want there to be a gap” between coordinators, she says.

“I’m glad [the negotiations] are over,” she notes. “Now we just get to get on with it.”

Shakespeare says she’s glad too. But she’s also tired. She can’t shake the disappointment she feels in the union for dragging the negotiations on for so long.

Still, she says, she is excited to be coming back to the VPD to help train the next gay programs coordinator.

“It’s just really, really cool to be on the cutting edge,” she laughs.