Deputy mayor Tim Stevenson proudly sported a rainbow-striped tie as he announced Vancouver’s first-ever Year of the Queer at Helena Gutteridge Plaza on May 23.
“Once again it puts Vancouver at the forefront of the liberation movement,” Stevenson said, to enthusiastic applause.
He was joined onstage by Sempulyan, a two-spirit member of Squamish and Musqueam Nations; Queer Arts Festival artistic director SD Holman; Frank Theatre artistic director Fay Nass; Queer Film Festival co-artistic director Anoushka Ratnarajah; and Vancouver Pride Society co-chair Charmaine de Silva.
Behind the speakers, two rainbow flags and two trans pride flag fluttered. There were also two two-spirit flags, a first for Vancouver.
Sempulyan offered a welcome and a traditional Squamish song, and used his time at the microphone to advocate for queer youth aging out of foster care.
“They need support in every area of their lives if we want them to become healthy, responsible, respectable citizens,” he said.
Stevenson read the proclamation, before presenting it to de Silva, Holman, Nass, and Ratnarajah.
Nass shared a story of her life as a queer, non-binary Iranian immigrant who arrived in B.C. 18 years ago when she was 16 years old. She said her classmates called her “FOB”, meaning fresh off the boat.
“In Farsi, we don’t use gender pronouns. There is no he or she, only third-person pronouns: u. U leaves a lot of room for interpretation, because gender becomes interchangeable,” Nass said. “Not having gender pronouns was very freeing for someone who always lived in a neither/or zone of gender. It allowed me to identify with any character I wanted.”
Nass recalled what it was like to be the only queer person of colour in her theatre program at the University of Victoria.
“At this point I was the only queer person of colour in my program, and I never saw someone like me on the stage or anything that I could remotely relate to,” she said.
Nass had previously spoken to the Georgia Straight about her desire to include more stories from queer refugees and immigrants in the work that Frank Theatre produces. She was also featured on the cover of the Year of the Queer print edition.
When Ratnarajah also took the stage, she started by calling out how Nass, as a person of colour, “has been invisibilized by a lot of folks” who discussed the lack of diversity of the cover at an earlier panel.
Her remarks focused on the work the Queer Film Festival had done in bringing new stories to Vancouver’s audiences, as well as the systematic problems still facing queer people.
“Today, queer, trans, and two-spirit youth are disproportionately experiencing homelessness, abuse, and death….Today, queer and trans refugees have to undergo discriminatory screenings and processes in order to reach safety, and then have to face the loneliness, isolation, and violence of racism and xenophobia if they are allowed to land on our shores,” Ratnarajah said. “When we think of all the people whose stories and artistry are lost to us because of these injustices, we should feel grief and rage. It is still our collective shame that we are not all free.”
Like Nass, she addressed the importance of diversity in art as a way to make sure everyone’s stories are heard.
“Most importantly, I am proud to work towards an arts scene and film world that prioritizing those of us who continue to be under-represented in the stories we see on screen and on stage,” she said.
After the speeches, Stevenson oversaw the raising of pride and trans flags in front of City Hall. They will remain flying until August.