3 min

Which horse to ride?

Community centre project torn between competing futures

The queer community centre in Ottawa will likely take one of two forms, according to discussions held at the planning board’s bi-monthly meeting.

One scenario would see some of Ottawa’s biggest queer organizations under one roof, sharing the cost of a lease – or a mortgage payment. Since big players like Pink Triangle Services, the AIDS Committee of Ottawa and Capital Xtra already rent space, those rent dollars could be the base budget the community centre needs to get started.

If Ottawa’s biggest community groups shared a lease, then room could be carved out for organizations like Capital Pride, which don’t have any office space at the moment. Under that plan, the roughly 15 staff of the five groups would work in the same building. Other organizations gain space for their volunteers.

“We need to talk to the people who deliver resources, and get them on board,” said Ricky Barnes, PTS’s Gay Men’s Health And Wellness Coordinator.

A private meeting to discuss committing to that vision is being scheduled between PTS acting executive director Wayne Adams, Bruce House executive director Jay Koornstra, AIDS Committee of Ottawa executive director Kathleen Cummings, Capital Xtra associate publisher Gareth Kirkby, and Pride chair Gordon Boissonneault.

Bruce House, the AIDS Committee Of Ottawa, and Capital Xtra already rent space in the same building, located at 251 Bank St.

Plans for a queer centre have been in the works – in one form or another — since Gays of Ottawa closed up shop in 1995. Pink Triangle Services began planning a centre, but the current incarnation of the project, the GLBTTQ Community Centre, gelled in August of 2005. Since that time, the project has incorporated, held its founding AGM, and set up its corporate structure.

Ten years of false starts have left the community cynical about the feasibility of a queer community centre in Ottawa. While many remain hopeful about the success of the project, the team has attracted few middle-class professionals with business, fundraising and political experience. It has, however, managed to retain its chair, after reports circulated that James Bromilow was stepping down.

“There seems to be a lot of apathy in the broader community,” says Lyle Borden, co-chair of the project’s communications committee.

At the Dec 14 board meeting, Borden complained about the lack of 30- and 40-something members of the community stepping up. He pointed out that most people involved with the queer community centre project — and other queer groups — were either over 50 or under 30.

The community centre’s September AGM packed a conference room with over 50 community members, including representatives from Gender Mosaic, Leatherfest, SAGE, the Police Liaison Committee, Carleton University’s GLBT Centre, and Capital Pride, among other groups. They also thanked their “community partners” including Ten Oaks, PTS, Bruce House, Jack Of All Trades, The City of Ottawa, Capital Xtra and Egale.

A second plan would see the community centre team use space in PTS’s existing fifth floor office as a lounge and meeting space. Between 2000 and 3000 people come through PTS’s office a month, according to Ricky Barnes, PTS’s Gay Men’s Health and Wellness Coordinator. In that scenario, the community centre could begin administering services next year.

“My own prejudice is toward services, or at least advocacy,” says Jessica Freedman, the board’s vice chair.

Under that plan, “under-serviced” groups, including trans people and queer aboriginals, could see programming directed at them.

At the board meeting, members also discussed the likelihood of receiving municipal money, given that neophyte mayor Larry O’Brien promised a zero percent tax increase over the next four years.

“Social supports are going to bear the brunt of the cuts,” predicted board member Gareth Parks, noting that he might be “playing chicken little”.

Last year, the project received $5,000 from city hall in order to get the ball rolling. Former mayor Bob Chiarelli acted as a resource person for the group, helping to advise the board on how to proceed.

The current mayor is one of 24 seats at the table,” says Barnes. “It comes down to good old politics — getting out and meeting people.”

Borden agrees. Other members suggested that the group “approach informants and key allies at city hall” to get a sense of the climate there.

“We have an ally in [city councillor] Diane Holmes, so we should make use of that contact,” says Borden. Borden says that Holmes has always been upfront with queer groups looking for information about their chances of receiving help from the municipality — and how to make proposals more attractive to councillors.

But the bulk of the money for a community centre isn’t going to come from city hall, notes Bromilow. They will need to fundraise in the community, as well as gain the cooperation of the city’s established queer groups like PTS and Bruce House.