By CRAIG TAKEUCHI, Georgia Straight
July 31, 2012
At the official launch of Pride Week at City Hall, activist and former Vancouver City councillor Ellen Woodsworth was one of several panelists from queer communities who spoke about the what gains have been made and what work there still is to be done. Adding to speeches from Out on Screen youth outreach coordinator Jen Sung and performer and teacher Jan Derbyshire, Woodsworth specifically zeroed in on lesbian concerns.
She noted that she shouldn’t be the “only one in the council chambers to say the word ‘lesbian’ “.
She also hoped that men, not just women, will attend the ninth annual Vancouver Dyke March and Festival, which takes place on August 4 at Grandview Park.
Another issue she raised was the gender disparity in the city, which has an impact on lesbians.
“We haven’t analyzed the data which shows two queer men are making 60 percent more money than two lesbians make because of [a] gender disjunction in our society that is actually growing. And what is the impact of that discrepancy when two women live together, two lesbians living together? What is the impact on where lesbians live and why they live on the eastside of town? What is the impact on child-rearing and healthcare? How many of the women who were murdered and missing, the aboriginal women on the Downtown Eastside, are queer? And why is it so many queer aboriginal people are living on the Downtown Eastside? We need to put this equity lens on all the work we’re doing.”
She also argued for people to “call on the City of Vancouver to put on an equity lens” and provide data that will allow people to know “whether queer youth need their own homeless shelter, so we need to know who are the seniors in senior shelters who are queer and make sure that they have the support that they need.”
A different point she addressed received immediate support from the audience. She raised concerns about how corporations are increasingly utilizing Pride and queer content in marketing material or products, but they aren’t giving back to the communities they’re profiting from.
“Queer rights [activists] need to call on the corporations who are marketing Pride and marketing gays and lesbians, that if they’re gonna make money off our community, we want that money to come back to our community,” she said, which prompted loud applause. “We don’t want it to just be seen during Pride. We don’t want it just to be on our t-shirts. We don’t want it to be just on their advertising. We want a percentage of the money they reap in as they market something that’s trending right now. Because we need it. Because we know that queer youths are being attacked. We know that queers are being killed. We know that queers are not able to speak their name out loud, out proud, in all situations. That includes elected levels of government. That includes the heads of corporations.”
Looking back over her contributions to social change, she recalled how she participated in demonstrations in 1969 at what’s now the Vancouver Art Gallery and at the now-defunct queer venue Vanport. She said she worked with city councillor Tim Stevenson to organize Pride celebrations to celebrate 35th anniversary of Stonewall in 2002, helped to create the city’s LGBTQ Advisory Committee, and contributed to implement inclusionary language in City Hall policy.
She noted that when COPE lost the election in 2005, Pride disappeared for three years in City Hall. She used it an example of how progress and gains are not something that are guaranteed to stay in place and can be lost.
“Human rights need to be fought for and we need to continue to stand together and we need to ask others to stand with us,” she said.
Although she called for vigilance, she continued to hold hope for the future.
“We must never assume queer freedom. We must never assume that life goes in a straight line,” she said. “On a queer day, soon, I hope to be able to see forever.”