4 min

Youthquest funding rebounds

Liberals giving youth group more than did NDP

Credit: Gareth Kirkby

Queer as Folk cast member Dean Armstrong, who plays Blake, the recovering drug-addict-turned-counsellor, is starring in a new role as fundraising spokesperson for Youthquest, the provincial outreach organization for gay, lesbian and transgendered youth.

The Owen Sound, Ontario native says the name of his Queer as Folk character kept popping up as he toured Lower Mainland drop-in centres on a recent visit.

“One of the teens actually documented in his suicide letter that when my character disappeared at the end of the first season, he couldn’t deal with it and took his life,” Armstrong told Xtra West. “When I heard that. . . I’ll never forget crying on the other end of the phone.

“There was never a choice on whether or not I was going to be affiliated with the organization,” he says. “The choice was made for me.”

In addition to the boost Armstrong’s endorsement could give the at-times financially-beleaguered organization, Youthquest organizers are optimistic its woes could be partially over after finance minister Gary Collins‚ announcement Sep 14 that British Columbia is once more a have-province and its economy is on the rebound.

Collins is predicting a $100-million surplus for this fiscal year.

Youthquest board chair Jim Mann says the group is on the road to recovery as its government funding begins to return to what it received under the NDP.

In each of the years between 1999 and 2001, Mann says, Youthquest received $70,000 a year from the provincial NDP government.

That was cancelled for the 2002-03 year.

But, Mann says, the group then received a commitment for $100,000 to cover two years, 2003-2005.

That was recently topped up when former children and families minister Christy Clark announced a further $35,000 during the recent Davie Day celebration. That’s $85,000 for 2004-05-up $15,000 from the NDP years.

Even the original $50,000 per annum in Liberal funding was up from the actual grants of the previous year. The provincial government public accounts show Youthquest actually received $42,100 for the 1999 fiscal year.

“We’re coming out of this much better than I thought,” Mann says. “I’m very happy right now.”

And, he says, Youthquest also recently received a further $35,000. But, he stresses, that money is earmarked for programs in northern BC.

“I think getting the money was a positive sign the government realizes Youthquest has a significant role to play,” Mann says.

Mann is also optimistic about what the immediate future holds. Youthquest has received positive indications for further grants for the 2004-05 years. Next year’s figure has not yet been announced, says Mann, “but I am told it’s more than we have been getting.”

Mann admits there were a lot of conversations with government to secure funding and credits Vancouver-Burrard MLA Lorne Mayencourt for going to bat for them.

But, he says, “This wasn’t a hard sell.”

That’s positive news for the 11-year-old organization which provides support and outreach for queer 13 to 21-year-olds throughout the province as they come to terms with their sexuality and begin the coming-out process

Executive director Randy Keats told Xtra West last month that the organization needs $150,000-200,000 in order to function at a core-services level.

When other organizations publicly criticized the provincial government over cutbacks, Youthquest downplayed the chops they suffered and kept up a conversation with Mayencourt and other Liberal MLAs. Some community leaders have argued that gay youth were the last group in society to be allowed in the door for funding, and should not have been among the first to get chopped-especially given the safety issues faced by queer youth in rural and resource communities.

As Youthquest prepares to go to the gay community in search of funding, others suggest that gays are already over-tapped for AIDS funding. And soon, the community is likely to be asked to also fund another court challenge to Canada Customs and a plan for a renewal of The Centre.

Little Sister’s, for example, has been waging a two-decade-long fight against Canada Customs’ seizure of books on behalf of our community-and funded by our community. With another trip through the courts looming, Little Sister’s owners still don’t know if this round will be funded by Canada Customs. Government lawyers have appealed a judge’s decision ordering Customs to pay for the bookstore’s case.

It’s estimated this round could cost $1 million.

Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva lauds Youthquest for its work, but says the group needs to strike a balance between confirmed funding and community support.

He says it’s becoming tougher and tougher to divide a dwindling and finite amount of support from Victoria between the many worthy community groups.

“I think it can be done and we have to be real creative. Many organizations are losing their provincial funding so it does create more crises in our community,” Deva says.

The Centre, located upstairs at 1170 Bute, now occupies a space of 4,000 square feet. It, too, is looking for funds as it wants to expand its services as it marks its 25th anniversary. And plans for a whole new location have been simmering for years in the background.

Funding for AIDS research and care isn’t getting the same shot in the arm from the community that it has been used to. The Sep 26 AIDS Walk had pegged its fundraising goals at $425,000. It came up short Sunday at $340,000 as participation in the 19th annual event plummeted.

Paul Lewand, chairperson of the BC Persons With AIDS Society, says the government remains the group’s top funder but community support has fallen off in the past three years.

“The more the province cuts, everyone looks elsewhere,” Lewand says.

“Everyone is hoping to get everything out of the public. Joe Public is getting asked for too much.”

And, Lewand says, community groups often wind up spending scarce resources for fundraisers and wind up competing with other community groups.

“We’re all going after the same amount of money,” he says. “It could get ugly.”

For their part, says Mann, having Armstrong on board has helped with fundraising for Youthquest. The group now wants to find people to sponsor its drop-ins in communities throughout the province, he adds.