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4 min

Where will you be when The Centre crumbles?

Foreshadowing the collapse of Vancouver's gay community

This seems to be the year when I am frequently overwhelmed by numbers and anniversaries, all of them pointing to the Inconvenient Truth that I am getting as old as fuck.

Now the challenge is not to live as long as modern science might allow, but to remain upbeat, positive and not the least bit bitter, for we must all be saved from bitter old queens who stand on the road to change with arms crossed pointing out that something is simply not possible.

In retrospect, it seems that the major changes in my life were always opposed by someone older, well-intentioned but beat down by life’s disappointments. I do not want to become an old naysayer, constantly boring people with talk of the way it was, rather than looking forward and fighting for the way it should be.

It is therefore with care that I ruminate on where the future of gay is going, even as I ponder the darkest of all thoughts: is there a future for gay?

It’s been 30 years since I made what was no doubt the most important change in my life: I moved to Vancouver and came out, slam and dunk.

In many ways my life began 30 years ago, as I moved from observing other people’s lives to living my own. It seemed as if I had been born in a foreign country, as if I were looking in the windows of other people’s homes, watching them lead their lives and knowing deep within that this could never be my life. Then I came out and found my own home in the gay community, and almost immediately felt a sense of belonging.

I am confident that without the gay community my life would not have been that at all — it would not have been my life and it would not have been a life worth living. So in many ways I owe my life to the gay community, and it is with this sense of total involvement that it seems impossible to think of gay people without a vibrant gay community, without a separate and distinct LGBT community.

Which is why I’m worried about the future of what should be one of our most instrumental institutions, pulsing at the heart of our distinctly gay community. Indeed, I am appalled by our community’s apparent lack of appreciation for, and commitment to, our very own Centre.

My rather pessimistic ruminations have been recently influenced by some volunteer work I have been doing with that little miracle on Bute St. It has been a long-standing dream of mine and so many others to find The Centre a new home, one worthy of both the important work that The Centre presently accomplishes, and our maturing and growing LGBT community in Vancouver.

With some seed money promised by a past city council and begrudgingly halved and then doled out by the present city council, a two-part study was created to first get feedback from our community as to what people would like to see in a new Centre, and then to look at possible models, financing and sustainability.

I agreed to sit on a steering committee that was designed to ensure the broadest degree of community participation. A facilitator was hired, plenary meetings were held and the

project kicked off last fall.

I envisioned community meetings of several hundred people, round tables actively working on coherent plans, a growing enthusiasm that would culminate in a plan that we could all have confidence in and move forward with. Well over 10 meetings were planned targeting diverse community groups and geographic regions, e-mails were sent, community newspapers notified, all part of a concerted effort to get the community out and participating.

But for the most part meeting attendance was disappointing. We got more feedback about the study’s failure to target the right people in the right part of the city, than about the future of The Centre. One meeting began with a shouting match between participants over which gender gave the most to the community. The meeting held for the business community drew two participants and one of them was me.

After several of these meetings I began to seriously worry about the future of the LGBT community, I began to wonder if this is not a foreshadowing of the complete collapse and amalgamation of our gay community into the miasma of an accepting and tolerant society.

I believe the West End is harbouring a dirty little secret that none of us in the gay community are willing to talk about: the number of gay people living in the West End, the supposed heart of the gay community, is quickly declining. Frankly, barring a few days in early August, we are being outnumbered by many different social groups, the latest being tight-assed, wealthy condo owners who are way more focused on property values then the future of the LGBT community.

We are surrounded by rightwing governments on all levels that believe the marketplace should determine who lives in our communities. It’s no surprise then that so many of our gay brothers and sisters are being forced to pack up their apartments and head to the suburbs. Against a disheartening backdrop of rising rents, our community is suddenly in grave danger of being lost and displaced.

One would think that this migration would create even more need for a centrally located Centre so that people could come home and revitalize, a place to store our history and a place to plan our future. Apparently not.

Has gay marriage put the final nail in the coffin? Are we all so concerned about our love being recognized that we’ve lost sight of the fact that cock sucking is still not looked upon favourably for men, and that most parents still dread the prospect of their daughters coming out as lesbians?

The veneer of acceptance in most neigbourhoods runs about as deep as Stephen Harper’s wish to reduce the burning of hydrocarbons. It looks good from a distance, it might even smell like tolerance, but when the first thing goes wrong the fags down the block will be the first suspects.

Be on guard and be careful: you are still part of a despised minority and there will come a time when once again we will have to band together and fight the good fight for equality and the space to live our lives.

Do not be hypnotized by the comments of well-intentioned people. The LGBT community became strong because we worked together, used our differences as strengths and fought long and hard for our place in this world.

So even as you migrate to other areas of the city, remember who your family is and where your home is, and work hard to maintain connections to both. Otherwise you just may find yourself isolated and homeless when you most need your community’s love and support and the space in which to share it.

I believe my view is not bitter, but realistic; tempered by the past but looking forward to many good things, including the creation of a new, vibrant, well funded, distinctly queer community centre serving a distinctly LGBT community that we can all be proud of.