“Where did Davie Village go?” Spencer Herbert says he asked himself when he noticed the signature rainbow Pride banners had disappeared from Davie St’s lampposts, replaced by banners promoting next month’s Triathlon World Championships.
Ron Stipp of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere (WEAVE) says he was equally confused and angry.
“Who in their right mind would have made the decision to do this? Whoever it was,” he wrote in an email to Xtra West, “has made a huge mistake.”
“We’re the people who hang those banners up there,” reveals Lyn Hellyar, executive director of the West End Business Improvement Association (WEBIA), which is responsible for selecting and hanging street banners in the West End, including Davie Village. WEBIA is also co-hosting the triathlon scheduled to run from Jun 5-8.
“First of all, I think you have to understand that what is up there is advertising for the world championship Olympic event that’s coming to Vancouver’s West End. We decided about two weeks after the event last year that we would put banners up to advertise the event this year in our BIA,” Hellyar explains.
Stipp says he has no problem with banners being put up around the city advertising the event but argues that when it comes to “an identifiable community” like the queer community, WEBIA should have thought the banner removal through with more sensitivity.
“We have fought over the years for recognition and for an openness that makes us proud to belong to our queer community,” he says.
“Sure, [the rainbow banners] may be simply symbolic for some, but having an identifiable area we call home is important to me and many others who woke up to see Davie St look like any other street.”
Stipp says he’s amazed at “how easily our identity was wiped out.”
Hellyar says she finds comments like that “really interesting.”
“Who has said they have been removed permanently? And if these people that are so concerned about the Pride flag hanging in the Village — maybe they better get a little bit more involved with the BIA,” she contends.
“Lyn Hellyar and the BIA are totally out of touch with the community if they’re making comments like that,” Stipp fires back.
“The symbolism is so important for our community with our struggles and all the things we’ve worked through. Sure the BIA may be responsible for this — and I’m not a business owner so I can’t belong to the BIA,” Stipp acknowledges.
“But if they really are a part of the community, they should be thinking about the community, not just thinking about the BIA themselves,” he argues, noting that “this has been the talk of the street” over the last few days.
Hellyar says both she and former BIA president Vince Marino have said “all the way along” that they’d preserve the identity of the Davie Village. That’s still the intention, she maintains.
“Taking those Pride flags down for six weeks doesn’t mean that we’ve nixed that whole thing,” she says.
For Stipp, the new and expanded West End BIA (formerly the Davie Village BIA) has “failed to be responsive” to the queer community regarding the banners’ significance.
“They should have said, ‘Yes, we’ll put triathlon flags up but we are going to keep the Pride flags up there as well,'” he says.
“They had a chance to do that, and it’s so disappointing, and if this is symbolic of what the West End BIA is all about, then I think we’ve really lost something in our community.”
Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva, who is also a WEBIA board member, says he finds the removal of the flags “deeply disturbing and disrespectful” — even if it’s only a temporary measure.
“Just walking without [them] down the street, the street does not feel the same. It’s not a banner, it’s a flag,” Deva insists, describing their absence as analogous to the Parliament buildings without the Canadian flag on them. “It doesn’t feel right,” he says.
Hellyar says the temporary hoisting of the triathlon banners is not meant to be disrespectful to the queer community but rather a means of representing “the diversity of the whole of the West End” as it prepares to welcome the world’s athletes to the area.
Deva says even if the rainbow banner removal is temporary, there should have been a compromise — for example, hanging a triathlon banner on every other pole.
Herbert agrees. It wouldn’t have been such an issue if every second pole still carried a rainbow banner, he suggests.
“This is our neighbourhood, not the triathlon’s neighbourhood,” says Herbert. “That needs to be kept foremost in the minds of all of us.
“If this happened in another community in Vancouver — say one of the cultural communities [where] all of a sudden all of the Chinese language signs disappeared, or the Punjabi market — that would be just as big and just as important,” Herbert points out. “But I think people still haven’t quite recognized the queer community as a distinct cultural voice.”
WEBIA president Renata Aebi says no one on Davie St should worry that the Village’s gay theme will be lost. The BIA board is “way too gay-positive” to let that happen, she insists.
She acknowledges, however, that people seem to be upset because they didn’t feel informed. She says she would be “very pleased to bring this back to the board” if people are upset.
“We can certainly revisit this to see how we might be able to promote the triathlon and also ensure the community is at least informed,” she says, adding there’s “nothing untoward going on” regarding the street banners.
For her part, Hellyar says she can’t understand why people can’t “put aside that bloody flag” for awhile.
“I support the gay community more than an awful lot of people do,” she says, “and we didn’t promise that the banners would hang there forever. We promised we would preserve the identity of the gay village.”