With 15 Van­cou­ver LGBT or­ga­ni­za­tions celebrating mile­stone an­niver­saries, it’s time for all of us to salute their achieve­ments

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - > BY CHAR­LIE SMITH, CRAIG TAKEUCHI, AND V.S. WELLS

Fif­teen Van­cou­ver or­ga­ni­za­tions that serve the LGBT com­mu­nity are celebrating big an­niver­saries, which is why this has been dubbed the Year of the Queer.

Some­times the best ideas are hatched over drinks. And so it is with Year of the Queer, which is the City of Van­cou­ver’s re­cently an­nounced ini­tia­tive to cel­e­brate sig­nif­i­cant an­niver­saries of 15 or­ga­ni­za­tions that serve the city’s LGBT com­mu­nity.

It started a few months ago when the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Out on Screen, Stephanie Goodwin, was sit­ting in the Ir­ish Heather with the heads of two other arts or­ga­ni­za­tions: SD Hol­man of the Queer Arts Fes­ti­val and Fay Nass of the Frank The­atre Com­pany.

The con­ver­sa­tion turned to the groups’ an­niver­saries—the 30th for Out on Screen and the 10th for the two other groups.

In a phone in­ter­view with the Ge­or­gia Straight, Goodwin re­called that she then blurted out: “It needs to be de­clared the year of the queer!”

Then it dawned on them that it was the 40th an­niver­sary of the Van­cou­ver Pride So­ci­ety’s Pride pa­rade.

“So, lit­er­ally, as we were drink­ing whisky I emailed [coun­cil­lor] Tim Steven­son from my phone and said, ‘Hey, Tim, I think we should get to­gether and talk. We have this re­ally great idea,’ ” Goodwin re­called. “Tim was re­ally re­spon­sive to us.”

Steven­son told the Straight by phone that he re­called say­ing it was a “fabulous idea” and en­cour­aged them to speak to the Van­cou­ver Pride So­ci­ety. Af­ter more dis­cus­sions with city staff and a lot more re­search, it turned out that 15 or­ga­ni­za­tions that serve the LGBT com­mu­nity are hav­ing ei­ther their 10th, 15th, 20th, 30th, 35th, or 40th an­niver­sary.

They in­clude AIDS Van­cou­ver and Lit­tle Sis­ter’s Book & Art Em­po­rium, which have turned 35, and Qmu­nity, which is 40. Groups turn­ing 20 in­clude Pride in Art Fes­ti­val, Rain­bow Refugee So­ci­ety, and Mon­soon—asian Les­bians, Bi­sex­u­als and Trans in Van­cou­ver.

On May 15, city coun­cil unan­i­mously passed a staff rec­om­men­da­tion for the city to launch “2018— Year of the Queer” with a procla­ma­tion and to sup­port a one-time event at Van­cou­ver City Hall next Wed­nes­day (May 23). That’s when huge Pride and trans flags will be raised on the north lawn until Au­gust 19 in recog­ni­tion of the an­niver­saries.

“Col­lec­tively these or­ga­ni­za­tions have pro­vided 330 years of ser­vice to the city’s LGBTQ com­mu­nity, and con­tinue to make sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to the so­cial, cul­tural, and artis­tic land­scape of Van­cou­ver,” a city staff re­port states.

Steven­son of­fered credit to the staff for all the work that they’ve done to make this the Year of the Queer.

“We will still, ob­vi­ously, have the Pride pa­rade, and we’ll still have a procla­ma­tion for Pride, as we have al­ways done,” he said. “I can read that as the deputy mayor if Gre­gor [Robert­son] is not able to make it.”



Con­sider, if you will, what the acro­nym 2

LGBT and its nu­mer­ous vari­a­tions con­vey: there isn’t just one com­mu­nity—it’s an amal­ga­ma­tion of di­verse groups. So how do umbrella or­ga­ni­za­tions bring to­gether mul­ti­ple com­mu­ni­ties with dif­fer­ent, some­times con­flict­ing needs and iden­ti­ties while be­ing in­clu­sive and ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one?

That’s some­thing that the Van­cou­ver Pride So­ci­ety (VPS) has faced with in­creas­ing fre­quency dur­ing its 40-year his­tory.

VPS com­mu­nity part­ner­ships co­or­di­na­tor Kaschelle Thiessen, who has been re­search­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s his­tory, told the Ge­or­gia Straight by phone that nascent lo­cal marches and move­ments in the 1970s and ’80s (which some­times sparked the dis­tri­bu­tion of hate-filled fly­ers in op­po­si­tion) tended to use the word gay in their names, like Gay Unity ’81 or Gay Lib­er­a­tion. But over the years, more groups be­gan to be rec­og­nized, pre­cip­i­tat­ing change and ex­pan­sion.

“The rea­son that the com­mu­nity started to come to­gether was be­cause as a coali­tion, as a group, we can only be stronger and we can en­act bet­ter po­lit­i­cal change and pol­icy change if we band to­gether and stand to­gether,” Thiessen said.

Ac­cord­ingly, VPS ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor An­drea Arnot, in a con­fer­ence call, said that they’re now pri­or­i­tiz­ing the “most marginal­ized voices” within LGBT com­mu­ni­ties and ac­tively seek them out “be­cause of­ten they’re peo­ple who wouldn’t nor­mally en­gage with Pride”.

Thiessen ex­plained that be­cause LGBT com­mu­ni­ties are not a “ho­moge­nous group”, they’re now look­ing at ways to shift at­ten­tion to those who have been pre­vi­ously ne­glected or ex­cluded.

What has also helped, in a di­verse re­gion like Metro Van­cou­ver, is other events, move­ments, and or­ga­ni­za­tions that have arisen to ad­dress spe­cific groups and of­fer al­ter­na­tives.

In her sep­a­rate role as so­cial-me­dia co­or­di­na­tor for the Van­cou­ver Dyke March and Fes­ti­val (VDMF), Thiessen pointed out that the VDMF can ap­peal to women and non­bi­nary in­di­vid­u­als, in­clud­ing bi­sex­ual, trans, and other peo­ple who don’t feel rep­re­sented by or who don’t iden­tify with other events.

Although the first VDMF hap­pened in 1981, it hasn’t al­ways been held an­nu­ally, as it is a vol­un­teer-driven ef­fort with min­i­mal fund­ing.

Through sheer ded­i­ca­tion, the event has con­tin­ued de­spite chal­lenges, and in an email to the Straight, VDMF board of di­rec­tors pres­i­dent Claire Ens said that the 15th march and fes­ti­val, to be held on Au­gust 4, will “fo­cus on the gen­er­a­tional con­tri­bu­tions, evo­lu­tions, and pro­gres­sions made through­out the years”, with an eye on the fu­ture.

Fur­ther al­ter­na­tives, con­sid­er­ing Van­cou­ver’s mul­ti­cul­tural com­po­si­tion, in­clude LGBT eth­nic and lin­guis­tic groups, which help to give voice and pres­ence in un­prece­dented ways.

One ex­am­ple is that the Sur­rey-based South Asian LGBT group—which cel­e­brated its 10thanniver­sary gala on April 22—marched for its first time in both Van­cou­ver’s and Sur­rey’s Vaisakhi pa­rades in 2017.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion, founded by Alex Sangha, has grown from an on­line group to an in­cor­po­rated non­profit so­ci­ety and of­fers ev­ery­thing from school out­reach work­shops, coun­selling, and im­mi­grant as­sis­tance to peer sup­port and so­cial events.

Other ex­am­ples in­clude the Asian les­bian, bi­sex­ual, and trans group Mon­soon and the LGBT refugee ad­vo­cacy group Rain­bow Refugee So­ci­ety, both of which are celebrating their 20th an­niver­sary.

Yet now that LGBT rights and ac­cep­tance have been gained in many ar­eas, are such or­ga­ni­za­tions’ events still needed?

Def­i­nitely, ac­cord­ing to both Arnot and


As tes­ti­mony to its own suc­cess, the Van­cou­ver Pride pa­rade (which will be held on Au­gust 5) has evolved from an event in which some par­tic­i­pants wore bags over their heads for fear of los­ing their jobs if outed to be­com­ing one of the premier sum­mer at­trac­tions in the city, one that draws thou­sands of spec­ta­tors.

How­ever, Arnot pointed out that even if some LGBT leg­is­la­tion has passed, there is still work to be done.

“So­ci­etal change of­ten fol­lows a lit­tle bit be­hind laws,” Thiessen ex­plained, cit­ing the fresh ex­am­ple of the April SOGI 123 protest against di­verse sexual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der ex­pres­sion in schools.

Thiessen added that although ev­ery­one has a dif­fer­ent per­cep­tion of what Pride is, and even if it ap­pears cel­e­bra­tory, the ac­tivism that got things go­ing still un­der­scores the present-day in­car­na­tion.

“I think any­time that you have a group that is shut­ting down half the city for a day and carv­ing out space to be un­abashedly and un­apolo­get­i­cally queer and trans in a ho­mo­pho­bic and trans­pho­bic so­ci­ety, that is in­her­ently po­lit­i­cal,” she said.



It’s a land­mark year for queer arts in Van­cou­ver. 2 Pride in Art So­ci­ety turns 20, and its Queer Arts Fes­ti­val has been around for 10 years.

Per­for­mance com­pa­nies Zee Zee The­atre and the Frank The­atre are also celebrating their decades.

“It’s just such an im­por­tant re­minder of where we are and where we’ve been and where we are go­ing,” Frank The­atre artis­tic di­rec­tor Fay Nass said by phone.

Each or­ga­ni­za­tion has plans for how to mark the oc­ca­sion. The Frank is pro­duc­ing Cam­era Ob­scura, a play in­spired by B.C. artist Paul Wong’s au­dio-vis­ual work, as part of the Queer Arts Fes­ti­val this sum­mer.

Zee Zee The­atre is con­tin­u­ing its na­tional run of My Funny Valen­tine, a play that tack­les the 2008 killing of gay U.S. teenager Lawrence King. Pride in Art is celebrating with DECADENCE, the 10th an­nual Queer Arts Fes­ti­val. The 2018 fes­ti­val prom­ises to cel­e­brate and hon­our “our com­mu­nity of trail­blaz­ing queer an­ces­tors”, ac­cord­ing to a news re­lease.

“I think we have made a space in Van­cou­ver for other or­ga­ni­za­tions to do more queer work and so many more things,” Queer Arts Fes­ti­val artis­tic di­rec­tor SD Hol­man said by phone.

She cited the fes­ti­val’s dates as one ex­am­ple: back in 1998, art show­cases hap­pened dur­ing Pride week at the end of July, as there were no other ac­tiv­i­ties be­ing held. How­ever, as more art events sprung up around the pa­rade in the late ‘00s, the fes­ti­val moved to mid-june to cre­ate space for new or­ga­ni­za­tions.

The Frank’s his­tory also goes back more than 10 years. Orig­i­nally founded as Scream­ing Wee­nie in 1996, the com­pany changed its name in 2008. Nass said the or­ga­ni­za­tion wanted to sig­nal a de­ci­sion to have hon­est di­a­logue around queer issues and the arts.

Zee Zee The­atre started out as a dream. “I didn’t think we’d re­ally do more than maybe three shows,” Zee Zee artis­tic di­rec­tor Cameron Macken­zie said by phone.

The 10-year an­niver­saries have pro­vided am­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties for the or­ga­ni­za­tions to con­sider the role of queer arts spa­ces, both in so­ci­ety to­day and in the fu­ture.

This year saw Pride in Arts open its own gallery, Sum. Its in­au­gu­ral exhibition, Queer­sum by Karin Lee, opened on May 12.

“Our role is to keep push­ing and sup­port­ing, mak­ing in­ter­est­ing, thought-pro­vok­ing, avant­garde, in­cen­di­ary work,” Hol­man said.

In an­other 10 years, she said, she’d like the fes­ti­val to be even big­ger, more in­ter­na­tional, and with a more solid struc­ture sup­port­ing the event.

For Zee Zee The­atre, queer art mat­ters now more than ever. “We all should feel like we ex­ist and we are seen and we have work that is for us,” Macken­zie said.

The Frank’s plans for the fu­ture in­volve im­prov­ing the di­ver­sity and in­ter­sec­tion­al­ity of its out­put.

“While it [queer] is one word, there are lots of other par­a­digms un­der­neath it,” Nass said. “Mov­ing for­ward, it would be great to bring in more fe­male, non­bi­nary, trans play­wrights…[and] more sto­ries by im­mi­grants and refugees whose ex­pe­ri­ences of be­ing queer out­side of our cul­ture have been very dif­fer­ent.”

It’s been a good 10 years for queer arts or­ga­ni­za­tions in Van­cou­ver. Here’s to the next decade.



Don Wil­son knows he has big shoes to fill and an im­por­tant legacy to up­hold as the owner and self-de­scribed cap­tain of Lit­tle Sis­ter’s Book & Art Em­po­rium. That’s be­cause the re­tail store at 1238 Davie Street has been an an­chor of Van­cou­ver’s LGBT com­mu­nity since it opened in 1983 in the up­stairs of a home at 1221 Thur­low Street. The co­founders, Jim Deva and Bruce Smyth, turned it into a gath­er­ing place for the queer com­mu­nity by sell­ing im­ported read­ing ma­te­rial that reg­u­larly drew the ire of Cana­dian cus­toms of­fi­cials.

In 1990, Ja­nine Fuller joined the staff; six years later, the shop moved to its much larger lo­ca­tion on Davie Street, where the ir­re­press­ibly cheer­ful Deva and the car­ing Fuller con­tin­ued of­fer­ing ad­vice and sup­port to the com­mu­nity. It was Lit­tle Sis­ter’s that helped mo­bi­lize a strong po­lice re­sponse af­ter a gay pho­tog­ra­pher named Aaron Web­ster was beaten to death in Stan­ley Park in 2001. Deva, a for­mer teacher, passed away in 2014, and Fuller is on med­i­cal leave, but the store is still go­ing strong, celebrating its 35th an­niver­sary.

Wil­son, who has ex­ten­sive re­tail ex­pe­ri­ence on Davie Street, stepped in to keep it go­ing, and in Oc­to­ber 2016 he bought Smyth’s share in the com­pany.

“Lit­tle Sis­ter’s is iconic in the Lower Main­land, for sure, and re­ally all over B.C.,” Wil­son told the Straight by phone. “It was al­ways heav­ily in­volved in the Pride or­ga­ni­za­tion and any com­mu­nity projects.”

Over the years, the LGBT com­mu­nity has dis­persed from the West End to other neigh­bour­hoods, which has led to Lit­tle Sis­ter’s be­com­ing a re­gional des­ti­na­tion. Wil­son said he has di­ver­si­fied the prod­uct line with more cloth­ing, gifts, and nov­elty items while still stock­ing a great deal of Prid­ere­lated con­tent and adult prod­ucts.

“We carry a full range of flags, whether it be trans to bi­sex­ual to leather to bear,” he said. “We prob­a­bly have 20 dif­fer­ent flags that are re­lated to LGBTQ in all sizes and shapes.”

An­other cul­tural in­sti­tu­tion that’s celebrating a land­mark an­niver­sary is Out on Screen’s Van­cou­ver Queer Film Fes­ti­val. Ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Stephanie Goodwin told the Straight by phone that it be­gan 30 years ago when Van­cou­ver was host­ing the Gay Games. A small group of peo­ple de­cided to screen some LGBT films by pro­ject­ing them on a wall in a Main Street stu­dio and us­ing milk crates as chairs.

“Back in the ’80s, there was al­most no queer film,” she said.

Nowa­days, the Van­cou­ver Queer Film Fes­ti­val re­ceives 900 to 1,000 sub­mis­sions per year and will run for 11 days, from Au­gust 9 to 19.

“This year, there is go­ing to be a trans women spot­light be­cause there is a suf­fi­cient num­ber of films,” Goodwin noted.

The Van­cou­ver Queer Film Fes­ti­val will also fea­ture mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary per­for­mances, as well as work­shops for screen­writ­ers—a sign of how it’s evolv­ing un­der new artis­tic di­rec­tors Am­ber Dawn and Anoushka Rat­nara­jah. There’s also a grow­ing num­ber of high-qual­ity in­ter­na­tional films.

“Rep­re­sen­ta­tion mat­ters,” Goodwin said. “Vis­i­bil­ity mat­ters. When we see our­selves rep­re­sented in com­plex and beau­ti­ful ways on the big screen, it’s a trans­for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.”


Some­thing was mysteriously 2

mak­ing gay men fa­tally ill in the 1980s. Some called it gay-re­lated im­mune de­fi­ciency (GRID). Oth­ers called it the “gay can­cer”. The epi­demic was even­tu­ally called ac­quired im­mune de­fi­ciency syn­drome (AIDS).

It’s rare to hear that term used these days.

It still ex­ists, but as AIDS Van­cou­ver ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Brian Chit­tock ex­plained by phone to the Ge­or­gia Straight, that’s be­cause med­i­cal ad­vances such as an­tiretro­vi­ral drugs have largely prevented the hu­man im­mun­od­e­fi­ciency virus (HIV) from ad­vanc­ing to the AIDS stage of in­fec­tion.

Chit­tock said they have con­sid­ered chang­ing their or­ga­ni­za­tion’s name. How­ever, their iden­tity is an on­go­ing re­minder of the tragic his­tor­i­cal cir­cum­stances from which the agency arose. In a pe­riod of dec­i­ma­tion, des­per­a­tion, and dis­crim­i­na­tion, the suc­cess and con­tin­u­a­tion of the or­ga­ni­za­tion re­mains an ex­am­ple of what Van­cou­verites can achieve when spurred into hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­tion.

On its 30th an­niver­sary in 2013, the agency chron­i­cled its sto­ried and in­trigu­ing his­tory in a se­ries of videos (3030.aidsvan­cou­ ). In one such video, Chit­tock noted that some of the chal­lenges they face to­day re­main the same as those in their early years.

“We’re still serv­ing the poor­est of the poor in Van­cou­ver,” he said, adding that some clients aren’t on med­i­ca­tion, and some are still dy­ing of AIDS.

Iron­i­cally, the achieve­ments of the HIV move­ment have re­sulted in new chal­lenges.

“Part of the prob­lem with be­ing so suc­cess­ful with the treat­ment is that peo­ple think AIDS and HIV is not an is­sue any­more and no­body’s get­ting it, and that hurts us,” he said. He went on to say that even though they’re still serv­ing more than 3,000 peo­ple in Van­cou­ver, they’re fac­ing cuts in donations and de­creased fund­ing due to mis­per­cep­tions about the state of HIV.

None­the­less, Chit­tock draws en­cour­age­ment from ini­tia­tives such as their Hiv–preven­tion pro­gram, which targets at-risk in­di­vid­u­als and has only had one of about 250 clients be­come Hiv–pos­i­tive over the pro­gram’s four-year run.

While the or­ga­ni­za­tion will mark its 35th an­niver­sary with a Red Rib­bon Gala on Novem­ber 15, its cel­e­bra­tions in­cluded its new $2,000 Ken­neth Lack­ner schol­ar­ship, which was given to its in­au­gu­ral re­cip­i­ent, Henry Tran, at the LOUD Foun­da­tion’s awards gala on May 10. Chit­tock said the schol­ar­ship was cre­ated in mem­ory of for­mer AIDS Van­cou­ver em­ployee Ken­neth Lack­ner, who be­queathed his life-in­sur­ance pol­icy to the or­ga­ni­za­tion, which turned it into an en­dow­ment fund af­ter his death last year.

While queer male health was pre­oc­cu­pied with AIDS and HIV dur­ing the past few decades, med­i­cal and so­cial ad­vances have al­lowed other or­ga­ni­za­tions to arise to ad­dress pre­vi­ously over­looked or un­ex­plored ar­eas of health. One such ex­am­ple is the Com­mu­nity-based Re­search Cen­tre for Gay Men’s Health (CBRC), which launched in 1999 and runs the an­nual Gay Men’s Health Sum­mit in Van­cou­ver; it ex­panded to the na­tional level dur­ing the past year.

An­other ex­am­ple is Health Ini­tia­tive for Men (HIM), which takes a mul­ti­fac­eted ap­proach by view­ing men­tal, phys­i­cal, so­cial, and sexual as­pects of health as in­ter­re­lated.

Aris­ing from the gay men’s re­source ex­change Gay­way, the first HIM clinic opened on Davie Street in 2008, and it has since ex­panded to a to­tal of five health cen­tres across the Lower Main­land. Their com­pre­hen­sive range of ser­vices and pro­grams cov­ers ev­ery­thing from coun­selling, sexual-health test­ing, and work­shops to yoga, soup-mak­ing, and life-draw­ing ses­sions, as well as health-awareness cam­paigns.

Although many lo­cal LGBT health ini­tia­tives may have arisen out of dire and heart­break­ing sit­u­a­tions, they have de­vel­oped into or­ga­ni­za­tions that will help en­sure LGBT peo­ple go beyond mere sur­vival and se­cure an even play­ing field upon which they can thrive well into the fu­ture.


(Left to right) The Van­cou­ver Dyke March’s Claire Ens, Van­cou­ver Pride So­ci­ety’s An­drea Arnot, Out on Screen’s Stephanie Goodwin, Pride in Art’s SD Hol­man, and Frank The­atre Com­pany’s Fay Nass. Tim Mathe­son photo.

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