The BC government didn’t earmark any money for the gay and lesbian community in its Feb 21 budget, but finance minister Carole Taylor does not believe the queer community has been left out.
“Everything in the budget is for the gay and lesbian community,” she says. “I just don’t make that kind of distinction. Everything we are doing, whether it is in education or health care is just as much for the gay and lesbian community as it is for anybody else.”
When asked about funding specifically for gay and lesbian projects, such as initiatives aimed at queer youth, subsidies for a new community centre, and money for HIV/AIDS, Taylor referred those questions to the ministries responsible for each area.
“At the finance or budget level, we really are doing the high-level dollars that will go into health,” she explains. “For instance, there are 885 million new dollars just for this one year going into the health care system-it’s a lift of 7.3 percent. That then is turned over to the minister of health who ends up deciding what policies, which health authorities, what is funded out of that new money.”
Lorne Mayencourt, Liberal MLA for Vancouver-Burrard, says it is too early to say where any new money for HIV/AIDS would be directed. “That would come after the budget process,” he says.
Mayencourt says funding for HIV/AIDS has been increasing by seven or eight percent annually, with the money going to research in experimental drugs and drug testing, mainly through the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St Paul’s Hospital.
“They basically come to us and say, ‘Okay, this is the number of clients we are serving, this is the drug profile that they will have, and this is how much money we think we’ll need.’ Almost invariably it goes up because the new drugs are more experimental, meaning the costs up front are much higher for these pharmaceuticals,” Mayencourt says.
Phillip Banks, director of HIV prevention services for AIDS Vancouver, says it makes sense to direct any increase in AIDS funding to research and experimental drugs. “Currently in British Columbia, only about 50 percent of people that could be on treatment are on treatment, given the current protocol,” he says. “They want to increase access to treatment, maximizing the number of people being treated. That way, it works to suppress the virus in people with HIV, which has a preventative effect by making them less likely to transmit the virus.”
But Paul Lewand, chair of the BC Persons with AIDS Society (BCPWA), says “you have to keep people alive in order to try experimental drugs on them.” And that, he says, requires more funding for affordable housing, support services and prevention.
Without affordable housing, accessible washrooms and a place to store medicine, people with AIDS can’t even begin to address their needs, he says.
“Something has to be done” about the lack of affordable housing in Vancouver, Lewand insists. “And this budget does nothing to make it better.”
This year’s budget again allocates no new money to BCPWA, either. “We’re working for more clients every single year and we’re working with the same money as 10 years ago, Lewand says. In the last 10 years, the population of people living with AIDS has doubled but the funding increases for the agencies that serve them “haven’t come anywhere near that,” he points out.
Mayencourt says he’s asked his government to fund a new AIDS prevention program. “I’ve put forward a request [for] a fund for HIV/AIDS to raise awareness around the prevention, transmission and stigma. The money would be allocated to Pacific AIDS Network of which all AIDS organizations are members,” he says.
Lewand welcomes the idea of a government-sponsored prevention campaign. Mayencourt has already met with BCPWA to discuss it, he notes. Though he hasn’t heard back and says he wouldn’t want the campaign’s funding diverted from support services, Lewand supports the idea in principle.
As for subsidizing the construction of a new queer community centre to replace the one currently located at 1170 Bute St, Mayencourt says he’s willing to seek additional funds for its development and operation, but hasn’t been formally approached by Centre staff. He says once a formal application for funds is received by his office, he would then work with the Ministry of Community Services to try to secure that funding.
Donna Wilson, The Centre’s executive director, says she is planning to meet with Mayencourt once phase two of the feasibility study assessing the specific space requirements and operating costs of a new space is complete. “Until we get that, we’re not going to have the full clarity that we need” to seek funding, she explains.
The Centre released the results of the feasibility study’s first phase last month. The results indicate that more than 95 percent of respondents want a new home for The Centre.
Once phase two is complete, The Centre will look for funding opportunities with all three levels of government, as well as corporate and community support, Wilson says.
Meanwhile, she notes, The Centre’s provincial funding for its regular programs and operations seems stable. “I don’t anticipate any changes in our funding from provincial sources,” she says.
The Centre has already received its 2007 allocation of provincial gaming funds worth $22,000, and Wilson expects to receive about $250,000 from Vancouver Coastal Health, as well as $66,000 from the Ministry of Children and Family Development for its Gab youth services program. That’s a significant chunk of Gab’s funding, she notes.
“Could there be more? There could always be more.” But this funding, Wilson says, “represents a significant commitment of funds from the government to date.”
Craig Maynard, chair of The Centre’s board of directors, agrees its current funding requests have been met, but says “there is always a need for more funding for The Centre, on an annual operating basis.”
There is one new source of provincial funding that Wilson is hoping to receive this year: a grant from Victim Services for a new queer anti-violence program. The Centre piloted a program in 2005 and is hoping to move forward now. “It’s an important need in our community,” Wilson says.