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Working group envisions new community centre

Low turnout means 'we have a sell job to do': Herbert

CULTURAL HUB. Seán Cummings (right, with James Beresford) says he'd like to see 'a theatre, a gathering place' in a new queer community centre. 'Culture is in everything we do. It defines us. With it we help each other, [we tell] our stories.' Credit: Nathaniel Christopher photo

In a follow-up to July’s public forum, 11 community members gathered to discuss a vision for a new queer community centre Sep 29.

After 90 minutes of discussion and debate, participants agreed on a shared vision to “enunciate a concept that will lead to the development of a queer community centre.”

Hosted by Xtra West, last week’s meeting was a follow-up to a larger Jul 9 town hall meeting that was standing room only.

“I would be more comfortable if there were 20 or 25 people at this meeting,” said Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva. “This vision has to go from a table of 10 to a community of 20-30,000. We have to not turn people off; we have to engage people so we need to design a roadmap.”

The participants, who after some debate described themselves as a working group, used the occasion to examine the big picture of what a centre might look like while acknowledging the obstacles.

“What strikes me the hardest is that when I go on the street and mention the need for a new centre I am met with blank stares,” said former city councillor Alan Herbert. “We here in this room are sold on it, but it’s still a sales situation to worry about. I don’t think we should take for granted that the community wants a community centre. We have a sell job to do.”

Deva suggested a video project as a possible starting point to get people engaged.

“We could look at a community centre in a city of the same size and do a video story of a city that already has this,” he said. “If 300 or 400 people watch this they could be informed and inspired. They need to know it’s possible for communities of our size to do this — how did they do it, what system did they use?”

Screaming Weenies artistic director Seán Cummings envisions the new centre as a cultural hub for the community.

“I’d like to see a theatre, a gathering place,” he said.

“Culture is in everything we do. It defines us. With it we help each other, [we tell] our stories, our myths and I would love to have a performance place to do that.

“We could team up with other groups, such as Out On Screen or Qmunity,” he suggested.

“We need to define who we are. We can’t let Hollywood decide or we’ll end up like Will & Grace,” he warned.

East Vancouver leatherdyke Elaine Miller was curious about what role her community might play in the process.

“I only come to the West End when I go to Little Sister’s to buy something,” she said. “I’ve been providing services in the community since the early ’90s, mostly to women, leatherdykes and kinky people. Is there a place for me to bring something to the table?

Miller was one of only three women in attendance at the meeting, along with East Vancouver resident Kona and former provincial election candidate Laura McDiarmid, who said she was “really excited” to see other lesbians in attendance.

“This never happens,” McDiarmid noted. “We have to drag them in kicking and screaming.”

The meeting did not settle the contentious issue of where a new centre would be located.

“I’m concerned about the investment in place that some people have,” Kona said. “At the last meeting there were people who were very vocal about moving The Centre from the West End. Today I’m not seeing those bodies that were screaming, so I don’t quite get that.”

Herbert posited the idea of a centre with more than one campus.

“Nothing prevents us from having more than one campus for the centre,” he said. “People do live elsewhere. There could be an opportunity to build something on Commercial Dr.”

Meeting attendee Nick Dobbing added that a new centre’s physical location is as important as an online presence.

“I’ve read stuff before that said if we put it online we take away from the physical presence,” he said. “But I think they complement each other. We’re not just serving people in the West End. So then do we make a centre for people across Vancouver and British Columbia?” he asked.

Dobbing feels that the success of a new centre is dependent on the people who put the vision into action.

“We need to pay attention to the political health of this undertaking,” he said. “We should build something into it where we are alert to problems that may arise. Conflict resolution. Conflicts will arise and we have to have a culture in place that has a mechanism for conflict resolution.”

For her part, Kona believes that building the team is the most critical piece of the project.

“We can always find money, we can always find someone to paint the wall, hand out news releases,” she said. “But the original team on the ground, if it’s not strong and solid and capable, there is no hope for the result being something that is sustainable and respected.”

The working group agreed to meet again Nov 3.