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8 min

Who’s your hero?

Honouring the everyday demigods among us

If you could have a superpower, what would your superpower be?

This is my least favourite of those stupid hypothetical questions people like to ask under the guise of conversation starting.

What inevitably follows is a monologue about how they can’t decide between x-ray vision and the ability to fly and the merits of each power. I can’t help but wonder if their time could be better spent, but I try not to judge the Stupid.

My superpower? Well, I’d like to be able to remember people’s birthdays. That would be amazing! Or I might choose the power to sleep more than six hours a night. I’d be unstoppable! Perhaps I aim low but I think it’s just indicative of the way I see the world.

I’m impressed by the everyday and the seemingly unimportant just as much as I am by the earth shattering. You climbed Mount Kilimanjaro? Wow, impressive. You’ve been on time for work every day this month? Holy shit!

So when it came time to write about the upcoming Xtra West Community Achievement Awards, affectionately known as the Heroes, sure, my mind turned to those who are finding a cure for AIDS, but also to a whole bunch of stuff that will never make the news. Like my young friend who just came out and the awe I feel at his confidence and sense of self, and a little something called ‘pay what you feel lentils’ at one of my favourite cafés.

I looked up the word ‘hero’ and found that, in Greek mythology, a hero was originally a demigod, the offspring of a mortal and a deity. Suddenly the concept of heroes seemed much more impressive to me — simple human beings who have the potential for greatness and decide to actually utilize that potential. There’s something extra admirable about that.

Because if you could fly, you’d pretty much have to do important things like rescuing people, wouldn’t you? I mean, if you have the power to move things with your mind and you just use it to drink a beer without your hands, you’re kind of a dick.

But if you’re just a regular Joanne who engages in small acts that benefit your community then you’re someone I can really get behind. You’re someone I might call a hero.

The battle for queer rights has very few landmark moments but millions of instances of regular folks doing something small to make our world a better place. For every Stonewall riot there have been a bajillion sparsely attended film screenings that got a couple of people thinking, a kazillion co-workers who changed pronouns without a fuss when asked to do so, and a gabillion librarians who recommended books by lesbian authors to those girls who looked like that just might be what they were looking for. (My numbers may not be entirely accurate but they’re close.)

So while the Nobel Prize is important and god knows queers love the Oscars, I think we have something much more relevant in our midst: our own community achievement awards.

The Heroes is our chance to recognize the everyday mortals in our community who have a touch of the supernatural about them. It’s our chance to acknowledge those who could easily do nothing but choose to do something, no matter how insignificant it might seem.

It’s our chance to show that it does matter when people create, support, inspire, represent or fight for our community on whatever level they can. Because it does, doesn’t it? I mean, doesn’t it?

We queers love to bitch. We love to tear each other down, we love to point out how things should be but aren’t and we love, love, love to withhold our support from people and things that don’t suit our fancy.

But what about extending our support to the things we believe in? Where is the place for that? Do we somehow expect people to keep trying to make things better for us all without so much as a pat on the back or a word of gratitude?

Seems a lot to ask, even of people who are part deity.

So this is me sending up the queer equivalent of the Bat Signal and inviting everyone to nominate their heroes.

Is there an artist whose work has touched you recently? Then nominate her.

Is there a volunteer you see pitching in time and time again at events you go to? Nominate him.

Is there a young person you know of who gives you hope for the next generation of queers? For the love of lipstick, nominate them! Especially them! Because here’s the crazy thing I just found out about youth: they grow up and become adults. It’s true!

And who do you think is more likely to become an active and positive contributor to society: the kid who was acknowledged for forming a gay/straight alliance at their school or the bonehead whose biggest accomplishment was playing Legend of Zelda for 24 hours straight? You do the math.

Is being nominated for a community achievement award going to change someone’s life? Probably not. But if their simple efforts have had an impact on you, why not return the favour?

It’s a little thing that will take all of about two minutes of your time but will have a positive effect on the nominee and on the queer community as a whole — which, according to my calculations, makes you something of a hero too.

So don your tights (or your chaps or your Dickies or your frilly panties or whatever you need to change into your alter ego) and toss your cape over your shoulder so it won’t get in the way while you fill in the nomination form at www.xtra.ca/hero.

Let’s let our heroes know that invisibility doesn’t have to be a requisite queer superpower.


NOMINATIONS ARE NOW OPEN.
For the 2008 Xtra West Community Achievement Awards.

Vote online at www.xtra.ca

Awards will be presented May 11 at the Majestic Lounge.

PAST WINNERS:

MICHAEL V SMITH
“I was a very lonely child. I felt like I was the only person in the world like myself. And I feel like all of my life and all my creative practice has been about trying to find other people like me. And the older I get the more I realize that everybody is like me and we all feel, at some point, that we are outsiders.”
 — Michael V Smith, Community Hero of the Year in 2007, for creating new spaces where alternative expressions of queer community can thrive, gather and grow, and for exploring what it means to be queer through a series of artistic projects, both on screen and in print.

RON DUTTON
“I don’t feel like a hero. I feel like a bit of a fraud up here. I’m a librarian for God’s sake! I’ve spent the last 27 years collecting paper documents. And sometimes I look at them and I think, ‘achingly dull  — and strangely compulsive!’ But I don’t think I’m a hero. It’s those people who caused me to want to collect their stories and make sure they’re never forgotten [who are the heroes].”
 — Ron Dutton, Lifetime Achievement Award recipient in 2004, for co-founding, stocking and continuing to coordinate BC’s gay and lesbian archives out of his own bedroom.

PATTY HAILS
“It’s really unfortunate that there’s so much hatred and ignorance in the world, but if we all stand up we can make a difference. It’s about having self-respect. I won’t live in shame.”
 — Patty Hails, Community Hero of the Year in 2004 with her friend Lori Neuen, for throwing themselves between two gaybashers and their intended target. They suffered minor injuries as a result of intervening in the attack.

JACOB SCHWEDA
“I really didn’t expect, a couple of years ago when I started the GSA [gay/straight alliance], to be standing in a gay nightclub in Vancouver! Thanks to everyone who supported me, all the members of the GSA on Salt Spring Island and especially my mom and my family. And thank you to the community in general because even if I was the one who received this award, this tells all the youth that are working and fighting the problems that our fights matter, and we’ll keep fighting.”
 — Jacob Schweda, Youth Activist of the Year in 2006, for co-founding the Gulf Island’s first gay/straight alliance and then lobbying the local school board for an anti-homophobia policy.

ANDY HENDERSON
“We saw the hate, we took a stand, we walked off. It was a very cool thing. I’m proud of them, I’m proud of my union, and I’m proud to be an ally.”
 — Andy Henderson, Straight Ally of the Year in 2007, for refusing to quietly accept homophobia in his midst. Henderson led his Canada Post colleagues to refuse to deliver a homophobic pamphlet blaming homosexuality for the fall of Western civilization.

SHAWN PETERS
“The energy I get from the gay youth in Prince George is what keeps us going. If you want to feel empowered, go to a gay youth meeting.”
 — Shawn Peters, Community Hero of the Year in 2003, for founding Prince George’s Youthquest group and challenging the northern school district to address homophobia in its classrooms.

PAT HOGAN
“As a social activist, a feminist and a lesbian, I care about the world I live in and the people I work with. It isn’t always easy working together in a room full of opinionated, strong-willed people; I’m one of them. But the most important thing for all of us is, working together, we need to have respect for our differences, we need to listen to each other across our various social and ethnic backgrounds, our ages, our sexual orientations. That, to me, is essential in building community, and community is probably the most important thing in my life.”
 — Pat Hogan, Lifetime Achievement Award recipient in 2006, for decades of building lesbian community through event organizing, culminating in 2005’s groundbreaking Western Canadian conference for lesbians aged 50 and older, which has since become an annual event.

MICHAEL HARRIS
“If it’s not too dorky, I think I want to dedicate this to Little Sister’s bookstore, which is going back to court again probably, hopefully. Because I worked there for a few years and I learned so much there. Not just about butt plugs and stuff, but about how important it is to take care of our stories. So I’m just really, really grateful for that.”
 — Michael Harris, Writer of the Year in 2006, for his funny, risky and creative contributions to this city’s stories.

ED LEE
“This is a message to all you young folks. It’s a message for you to go out there and amaze us. Just amaze us. The things we have done should be a shadow of what you will do in the future.”
 — Ed Lee, Community Hero of the Year in 2005, for finally unveiling Vancouver’s AIDS Memorial after years of hard work and determination.

JOE AVERAGE
“Wow. Thanks you, guys. I’ve been watching the recipients of the awards tonight and realizing just how removed I keep myself from the community. I’m quite an introvert. But my god, I’m proud to be part of the community.”
 — Joe Average, Lifetime Achievement Award recipient in 2003, for years of contributing his unique artwork to AIDS and other community fundraisers.

MURRAY BILIDA
“I feel unworthy, truly, but I’m very touched. You, too, can take your anger and move it into direct action. If you don’t like the way something is, take that one step and the response will astound you.”
 — Murray Bilida, Volunteer of the Year in 2002, for organizing the 2,000-person march down Davie St to protest Aaron Webster’s brutal gaybashing in Stanley Park.

GLEN HILLSON
“The AIDS movement has managed to attain great strides in the 20-plus years since the epidemic began. In particular, the gay community has rallied in a way that took a lot of courage, especially given the social stigmas then. There’s a good deal left to be done before the cure. We will prevail but to do so we need the steadfast support of the gay community.”
 — Glen Hillson, Lifetime Achievement Award recipient in 2003, for decades of tireless AIDS activism.

CHRIS MORRISSEY
“It’s quite an honour and I feel quite overwhelmed to be nominated and to actually win the Lifetime Achievement Award. We’ve been doing this work and I’ve been living my life and it seems like a very ordinary thing to do. In fact, a lot of us just do that. It’s about living our lives and doing what we do on a day-to-day basis. When I look back, I can see the impact some of the things I have done have had on other people’s lives and it’s humbling in some ways to be nominated and given an award.”
 — Chris Morrissey, Lifetime Achievement Award winner in 1999, for co-founding the Lesbian and Gay Immigration Task Force and lobbying the government for years to change the definition of spouse for immigration so queers can being their partners to Canada.

BUSTER CHERRY
“I would like to thank the Dogwood Monarchist Society for their acknowledgement and support. Just being a part of that whole organization is quite incredible. They’re an amazing organization and fundraising organization….
It’s just an amazing thing to be part of such an amazing drag community that we have here in Vancouver. There’s so much talent. We are the drag capital of North America. I’m just so honoured to be a part of that.”
 — Buster Cherry, Drag King of the Year in 2006, for fulfilling his duties as Emperor of the Dogwood Monarchist Society with generosity, dignity and flair.