4 min

‘We’re mobilizing’

Bash victim says gays have to police selves

Credit: Robin Perelle

Velvet Steel’s broken fingers may have healed but her anger still smoulders.

The post-op transsexual got attacked last September in the West End, as she was walking home from dinner with her husband. Now, she’s determined to do something about the growing bashing problem in her own backyard.

It’s time the gay community took its safety into its own hands because no one else is going to stop the violence, she says.

With the help of her friend Jack Herman, Steel is preparing to do just that. Together, they want to compile everyone’s West End bashing stories so they can track the violence and eventually eliminate it.

Steel’s determination to stop the violence stems from her own brush with teenage bashers last fall-and the Vancouver Police Department’s (VPD) botched response.

The details of that night remain engraved in her memory. Steel was walking home with her husband, Ray Pichette, on Sep 17 when they ran into a group of nine teenagers loudly discussing “fags” and “dykes” at the corner of Cardero and Comox. Steel called 911-to no avail.

Though an officer arrived within minutes, all he did was disperse the teens. He didn’t ask for identification. He didn’t file a report.

The teens dispersed, only to converge again on Steel and Pichette several minutes later. They attacked, breaking three of Steel’s fingers and hitting Pichette until he fell to the ground.

Police returned to the scene, but were uncooperative and rude, harkening back to the bad old days when cops routinely dismissed gay complaints, Steel says. She received neither an incident number nor a business card from any of the attending officers.

Now, after months of police investigation into what transpired that night, Steel says she’s going away empty handed once again. Police won’t charge the teenagers.

Insp Dave Jones, the commanding officer in the West End, says the police can’t charge the teens because they lack sufficient evidence to establish who did exactly what and they can’t just charge the group as a whole. Though at least one of the kids said homophobic and transphobic things when questioned later, Jones says the bottom line is that police don’t have enough evidence to support any charges.

It’s not for lack of trying, he quickly points out.

“I invested over 200 hours of VPD time” trying to sort this case out, he says. “I think we’ve done the best we could.”

Had it been anything other than a hate crime, Jones says he couldn’t have spared the resources. But crimes against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people “are more serious,” he says, “and we’ll invest resources in those situations.”

Steel is not about to be appeased. She says the VPD failed her. “I feel like the wind has been taken out of my sails completely,” she says of the investigation and its aftermath. But she won’t let that stop her. She wants to turn her anger into something positive.

That’s where her new project comes in. It’s called Tell Us Your Bash Story, and it’s designed to find out exactly how much violence is occurring in the West End.

“We all know it’s out there,” Herman says, but no one knows the exact scope of the problem. That’s why he wants to “hear from every gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans person that’s ever been assaulted in our community. Nobody is safe from the violence,” he says.

Herman is hoping the information gained will allow him to piece together where and when most bashings take place and the type of people who commit them. “Our goal is to reduce the level of violence in our community,” he says.

The data collection is just the first stage, he continues. Once the information is in, he and Steel will be able to formulate an action plan. Though neither one will speculate at this point about what that plan might look like, they won’t rule out possibilities such as working with schools and implementing queer patrols.

“I think this tells the police and everybody else that we’re mobilizing,” Steel says.

When asked if the gay community should have to mobilize to protect itself, Herman echoes Steel. Someone has to do it, he says. “I wouldn’t rely on the police for assistance in a bashing.”

He’s not just referring to the VPD’s botched response to Steel’s bashing last September. His dissatisfaction with the VPD runs deeper than that. It begins with the lack of training police officers receive on gay issues.

Jones admits that officers do not receive any specific training about the gay community and its needs. But they do receive enough general diversity training to be able to respond to hate crimes of any kind, he insists. There are “not enough hours in a year to give training” on every issue out there.

Herman is not convinced. The VPD rank and file need to gain a better understanding of gays and lesbians, he maintains. If not through gay-specific training, then at least through more uniformed beat cops on Davie St. Beat cops would not only deter potential bashers but also forge a better relationship with the gay community, he suggests.

Jones says the number of officers occasionally walking or biking down Davie St has increased in the last year, making Davie the second most patrolled street in his district, after Granville.

That’s not good enough for Steel. At the end of the day, she says she still doesn’t feel safe in her own neighbourhood and she doesn’t feel very well protected by the VPD. And that’s a problem that needs addressing.

That’s why she’s hoping to hear from the rest of the community soon. “We’re really hot on this,” Steel says. “Something has to happen.”


Tell Us Your Bash Story.