Progress unclear for LGBTQ+ participation on Coquitlam advisory committees

City officials say Coquitlam is committed to promoting inclusion, but some advocates want to follow example of cities like Vancouver with established LGBTQ+ committees

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By JACOB ARON LEUNG

This story was originally published on March 2, 2023. 

As Coquitlam’s seven advisory committees reconvene this month, questions remain about progress on LGBTQ+ participation in these civic bodies.

The issue was raised in a March 2022 meeting of Coquitlam’s universal access-ability advisory committee (UAAC), where there was discussion of “the belief that LGBTQ issues were not addressed within the city’s advisory committee mandates, other than universal accessibility issues,” the meeting minutes show. At that time, a council member “noted that staff would follow-up regarding LGBTQ representation on advisory committees, if available.”

But one year later, the status of that follow-up is unclear, to the disappointment of some advocates who want to see members of the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community taking a more active role at city hall.

City officials, however, say Coquitlam remains committed to promoting and celebrating diversity.

Coquitlam Coun. Teri Towner, who now chairs the UAAC, says council is not currently considering establishing a new advisory committee made up of and focused on the LGBTQ+ community, but the city does offer other initiatives that strengthen equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). She mentioned the inclusion of Coquitlam’s rainbow crosswalk in 2018, special lighting and banners during Pride, and the hiring of an EDI manager last year.

Manisha Dutta, the city’s manager of EDI, said she works with city staff, including the legislative services department which oversees advisory committees, to ensure “a diversity of lived experiences is valued and acknowledged.”

Past controversy fuels the conversation

The current roster of Coquitlam’s advisory committees was recently finalized, and includes seven volunteer bodies who meet regularly and advise council on issues including sustainability, multiculturalism, cultural services, community safety and the universal access-ability advisory committee.

The debate comes at a time when LGBTQ+ issues remain a topic of conversation in Coquitlam and the Tri-Cities, after controversy surrounding January’s Drag Queen Story Time at Coquitlam Public Library. Protesters gathered outside the library, followed by counter-protesters showcasing support for the children’s event. The event drew significant media coverage.

Nicola Spurling, a local social justice advocate and former president of Tri-Cities Pride, attended the counter-protest in January, and later described it as the “biggest queer gathering the Tri-Cities have ever seen.”

Asked for her opinion about the potential for a LGBTQ+ advisory committee in Coquitlam, Spurling said it could create positive change, as current initiatives seem “performative.”

“I think having an advisory committee would help that [EDI] work actually be accomplished and take it from performative to something action-based,” Spurling said.

According to Statistics Canada’s 2021 Census of Population, British Columbia is home to the second-largest proportion of transgender and non-binary people between 15 and 34 (0.90 per cent) among Canada’s provinces.

It’s not just Vancouver that is queer

Of the LGBTQ+ Canadians living in urban centres, 10.8 per cent reside within Vancouver, a municipality with an established LGBTQ+ advisory committee for over a decade.

Eddy Elmer, former co-chair of Vancouver’s 2SLGBTQ+ committee, says that LGBTQ+ British Columbians deserve more localized communities outside of Vancouver, noting that some members on Vancouver’s committee reside in the Tri-Cities because of factors like affordability.

“I think there’s just going to be more LGBTQ+ people living there [in the Tri-Cities], because Vancouver’s not necessarily the epicenter of our community.”

“We’ve actually had some people from other cities say that they read our minutes, looking for advice on what they could do in their city to make it more LGBT+ friendly,” Elmer said. “I love knowing that even if City Council doesn’t decide to make a change that we suggest, somebody else may find our recommendations useful.

Elmer, who also served on Vancouver’s seniors’ advisory committee (now called the older persons and elders advisory committee), notes that people outside a committee’s demographic contribute as well.

Also, Elmer said, ideas stemming from Vancouver’s 2SLGBTQ+ committee’s discussions, such as better street lighting for safety or added diversity training, also provide benefits for the broader city outside of the committee’s initial demographic.

“Every city needs something like this,” Elmer said. “It doesn’t need to be a major committee of 15 people: it could just be five or six people to start.”

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