Ottawa
3 min

You bet we can

Call it The Year Of Possibilities.

That’s what 2006 is to the Ottawa gay and lesbian, bisexual and trans community. It’s the year when big things can get moved forward.

It’s already happening.

The timing is key. After a few years of watching our institutions, like Making Scenes, the Time Out athletic social group and Act Out Theatre disappear (and the Pride festival wither), our youth leave town after graduation, and others head to Montreal or Toronto to party as often as possible, I sense a growing mood for change and rejuvenation.

And after a couple of decades of local gay activists focussing on parliamentary minutiae, a new generation is emerging determined to work on the long-neglected local scene.

We’re at a crossroads in Ottawa’s queer community. Follow the easy path, and we will soon be a de facto suburb of the Montreal gay scene. But if we follow the Yellow Brick Road or more like it, if we build the Yellow Brick Road – we can reinvent our community in a way that keeps us in town on weekends, gives university grads something to stay for and even brings gays from around the world here to check us out.

This being a civic election year in Ottawa, it’s a mighty fine time to start baking yellow bricks.

It’s already started. In this issue, for example, you’ll find news reports on three initiatives now underway: Pride’s lobbying of City Hall for fair funding of our annual festival, having the city designate a strip of Bank St the rainbow village and creating a queer community centre with help from city hall.

Though the work on all three projects began last year, there’s nothing like an election year to make a big leap forward. We’ve got nine months to lobby, question and critique candidates for mayor and city council. Nine months to get commitments and move forward on what our community needs to assume its rightful place in the local sun.

It’s certainly time to do so. Take a look at the idea of a rainbow village on Bank St, for example. In Ottawa, we have 39 gay and gay-servicing organizations, businesses and institutions along and near Bank St between Laurier and Gladstone. Many of us live nearby in Centretown. Vancouver, by contrast, has 28 businesses and organizations in Davie Village, the gay strip. And though perhaps a larger portion of Vancouver’s queer community lives nearby, many do not; what both cities have in common is that whichever neighbourhood gays live in, they recognize a certain strip as being their local “capital city of Gay Ottawa/Vancouver.”

There’s a pent-up desire for a rainbow village in our community. That’s why a February meeting on the subject was packed, with people having to stand.

No doubt, a recent editorial in the Centretown News stiffened the back of those who attended that public meeting. The editorial was the sort of misguided, hetero-centric drivel that our community has put up with for too long. It’s exactly why we need our own (shared) space, let alone our own newspaper.

“Ethnic communities such as Chinatown and Little Italy serve the purpose in preserving a culture,” wrote Anne McEwen. “A neighbourhood based on sexual identity is not the same thing.” Really? So gays and lesbians don’t have their own culture? And many of the components and expressions of that culture are not focussed on Bank St? Hello?

She continues: “To segregate and suggest a special neighbourhood is needed is actually a step backwards in the quest for equality.” Special neighbourhood? Right: you mean, like “special rights,” not human rights.

“It implies — rather frighteningly — that residents of different sexual orientations cannot happily coexist in the same neighbourhood.” I get it: she thinks we all want to assimilate as equals. Sorry, most queers are as proud of our differences as we are sure that we shouldn’t be discriminated against because of them. And by the way, nobody’s yet suggested we drive straights out of the neighbourhood. Nobody’s suggested hot-pink benches or pink triangles. I’ve heard about symbols that don’t offend other cultures on the street – we can all live under the rainbow symbol of diversity, for example. It’ll look chic and pick up the look of the neighbourhood and attract others, not drive them away.

This debate is overdue in Ottawa. This is the year for it.