Five years ago, an out woman found herself bereft of queer friends and felt lost in the community. Things changed for her when she began volunteering at what was called the Centre (rebranded as Qmunity in June 2009).
That woman, Dara Parker, became the executive director of the organization in May of this year.
“Anecdotally, when I talk to people about why they want to get involved [with Qmunity], I often hear my own story told back to me. ‘Oh, you know, I felt a bit disconnected from the community. I wanted a way to meet more people,’ ” Parker told the Georgia Straight at her Bute Street office in between bites of her lunch.
No survey of the local queer community would be complete without Qmunity, our city and province’s primary queer resource centre, which provides safe spaces and services for a diverse range of people that includes everyone from lesbians and gay men to gender-variant individuals, questioning or closeted people, and straight allies.
Needless to say, providing those connections for a community whose inherent strength and vulnerability is diversity doesn’t come without difficulties.
One challenge the centre contends with is remaining adaptive to increasingly rapid social changes.
“Queer culture is evolving,” Parker said. “We, as an organization, are evolving to respond to new, emergent needs that shift as the culture shifts….Our core work that we’ve been doing for 30 years is still relevant and important to addressing those issues. But I do think there’s an evolution as well.”
In fact, the centre’s history chronicles the growth in recognizing diversity: Qmunity originated as a grassroots collective, became a gay centre in 1979, then a gay and lesbian centre in the ’80s, and continually expanded to encompass bisexual, trans, and other queer groups and allies.
Parker also noted that the various generations (divided into youth, adult, and older adult) that the nonprofit serves have had markedly different experiences.
Qmunity’s Generations program, for example, is addressing the needs of some of the first out generations of seniors. “The number one concern among older and aging LGBT people is that they will have to go back into the closet as they age out of their homes,” she said.
In response, Qmunity created Aging Out, funded by the Vancouver Foundation with support from Vancouver Coastal Health, which helps care homes and health institutions become more queer-inclusive.
Parker said the centre recently started up a new transgender support group. It also has a trans partners support group (for friends or partners of trans or gender-variant people), is developing a transgender health resource, and is aware of the transphobia that exists within the queer community.
Meanwhile, Routes to Roots is a new program inspired by and for queer youths of colour that expands the organization’s cultural-resource repertoire, which includes the Rainbow Refugee Committee and 2 Mundos (for Spanish speakers).
Being inclusive, however, does have its limits.
“There’s an instinct to want to say ‘yes’ to everything….[but] I don’t feel like I have the resources to adequately respond to the identified needs,” Parker said. “So I see a lot of need, and I am concerned about trying to respond to everything, at the expense of doing things well.”
What’s more, the organization has long outgrown its second-floor offices; Parker said they are “bursting at the seams”. (That’s in addition to the entrance stairs posing accessibility problems, the lack of basic amenities such as a kitchen, and a need for greater street presence. The ongoing, long-standing search for a new location—on zero budget—continues.)
One of Parker’s main priorities is to bring in more resources to meet these challenges. She also emphasized that although she’s open to feedback and criticism, she wants a dialogue from which to learn and move forward.
“We’re all constantly learning,” she said. “And I think that’s important: always being open and unpacking assumptions.”