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 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 Centre, told 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, said 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.
The board is now enforcing a stricter adherence to membership rules, she said -something she claims was lax during the time of the Davie Village BIA, WEBIA’s precursor.
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, while Denman and Robson would get new banners. The Denman and Robson banners would feature an “exploded rainbow” on one side of each pole, he said, to create a series of consecutive rainbow colours down each street.
Xtra West caught WEBIA board member Robert Graham leaving the meeting and asked him if the rainbow banners will be coming down on Davie St. He directed the question to Hellyar.
Hellyar did not return multiple calls from Xtra West 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 also 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 revaluate 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.
“The entire board needs to look at who they are standing for and what they’re about,” he adds.
Stipp says he supports Davie St businesses, but won’t hesitate to take his business elsewhere if he feels the gay community isn’t being respected in its own village.
“I support Davie St businesses, but I can shop in Yaletown,” he says.
Graham, who owns Momentum on Burrard St, says replacing the rainbow banners should not be seen as a dissolution of community pride.
“It’s foremost in my mind to retain the individual and visual representation of the gay area,” he says. “It’s very important toward culture and pride. There are many ways to do this — banners are just one.”
Graham believes the banners have become “common” and asserts it’s time for a change.
“It’s time to identify ourselves uniquely,” he says. “It’s time to look at new ideas and ask: ‘How can we label the gay village and be as unique as they were when they put the banners on the pole?'”
Though Stipp admits he is curious about what the new banners will look like, he also stresses that taking down a predominant emblem of gay Pride will undoubtedly affect the spirit of the community.
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.”
Hellyar promised at that time to keep the rainbow banners in the Village, despite the fact that many West End merchants “don’t want pink bus stops and Pride flags.”
“People see the West End as a really gay-friendly area,” she said. “We’re trying to not water down the gayness of the Village, but also make people feel they’re included.”
The Davie Village’s gay identity “is not even in question,” then-incoming BIA president Vince Marino said.
A resolution passed at the BIA’s September 2005 AGM states: “The following principles must be guaranteed as a condition of expansion: The governance structure will empower representatives of the existing Davie village area to determine the identity of the village.”
“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 now.
“I’m mortified,” says VPS president John Boychuk.
For Boychuk, the rainbow banner is more than just a street marker. “This is the icon created 30 years ago because of shit like this. Because of oppression,” he says.
Although BIA guidelines state that when an AGM is postponed it must be held again at the same place and time seven days following postponement, as Xtra West goes to press WEBIA has yet to publicly announce details of its rescheduled AGM.