Flanked by outstanding performances from some of Vancouver's hottest queer artists, our community's leaders took their turns at the podium May 13, as Xtra West presented its 2007 Community Achievement Awards.
"We're here tonight to celebrate some of the people that make our community awesome," host Morgan Brayton told an enthusiastic crowd of about 300 people who gathered at Jupiter for the occasion. "We're here to celebrate business people, activists, artists, athletes, creators of culture and, most importantly, creators of community."
Readers cast their ballots in March to nominate their heroes in each category. A panel of Xtra West judges then faced the challenging task of shortlisting the finalists and selecting the winners.
In the end, after much soul-searching, arguing and vigorous debate among the judges, 11 trophies were engraved and 11 groups of Heroes were called to the stage to accept our community's thanks for their contributions in 2006.
Here are some excerpts from what those Heroes had to say:
Tim Beaulieu, Athlete/Sports Organization of the Year
I'm really flattered, thank you very much! Justin [Côté] is an amazing athlete and I love the whole premise of Not So Strictly Ballroom, so I accept this on everyone's behalf.
I can't say enough how much sports, and friendship through sports, and participating in sports has done for my life. And I love winning this when I'm 40 because I don't feel so old anymore!
I just encourage everybody that isn't involved in a group activity [to] get involved. You meet a ton of people, you make lots of friends, you have a good time. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don't, but it's all worth it in the end.
The Gay Men's Methamphetamine Working Group (GaMMa): Volunteer of the Year
We'd like to thank everybody for taking the time to talk to us on our outreach at the bars, at the steambaths, at the bachelor parties, on the streets of Vancouver--and allowing us to talk to you with a non-judgmental approach to harm reduction. The gay community has had a major problem with crystal meth and it's about time that we just took care of one another.
Willi Zwozdesky, Lifetime Achievement Award
Thank you for this immense honour.
When I first started out on my path with the Vancouver Men's Chorus in 1981, everything was new; it was the first time anything like it had been done in Vancouver, and in Canada. I had trained and planned to be the career musician that I am today, but had no inkling that so much of my career would be invested in this one gay organization.
In those days, the community was really coming together, although the dark clouds of the as-yet unnamed new 'gay cancer' were gathering on the horizon. There were those on the outside who counselled me against conducting the chorus. Some called it, rather harshly, professional suicide. I prefer to think of it as a masterstroke, and today's celebration is part of the proof.
Together with the chorus and the community, we have weathered some pretty fine and pretty horrific weather. But I can truly say that I was thrilled to be doing this work then, and I'm still thrilled 26 years later.
Our influence has been far-reaching. It has been felt across Canada--as the recent Unison festival has shown--and in many other parts of the world. Today, we are setting out on the next major footprint in the VMC's history, and I'm delighted to be a part of it.
As a gay man, musician, and community member, I am deeply honoured by this recognition. I am also honoured to join the ranks of previous winners who continue to serve our community as generously as before. For my part, I expect to do the same.
And finally, I extend a special thanks to the entire Xtra West team for connecting us and making this possible. Thank you.
Andy Henderson, Straight Ally of the Year
I'm very proud of my co-workers of all different ages. We all walked off. We saw the hate, we took a stand, we walked off. It was a very cool thing.
I'm proud of them, I'm proud of my union, and I'm proud to be an ally. Thank you very much!
Amanda Luv, Drag Queen of the Year
This is very, very unexpected! I don't know if anyone has been to Surrey lately. Out there, we don't take much for granted, as we don't have many venues.
We had a straight owner, Fireside Café, who actually said okay after 20 minutes of meeting him. Didn't know what a drag queen was, didn't know what I was going to do. And he said, 'Yeah, okay, we'll hold a show.' And so be it.
I'd like to thank everyone out there in Surrey that started the community, including Martin Rooney, Out in Surrey, and the court as well. Thank you everyone.
Prodigal Son (written by Shawn Macdonald), Live Performance of the Year
I love that these awards are called the Hero Awards. The first thing that comes to my mind is the hero's journey. For the play that I wrote, and the main character of the play, that's really how I thought about his journey: a heroic journey towards self.
When I started out performing in Vancouver, I played a lot of gay roles and I loved it. [But] part of being an actor is being a diva. You start to say, 'Hey, I can do more than just gay roles. I want to play a straight guy!' So you try to, and you try to convince them that you're straight.
For me to be receiving this award is a kind of hero's journey of its own. You know the classic mythological hero's journey: they get the call to leave, they go through all their trials, they get the prize and then they bring it back to the community to share with them.
I feel like that's what this about for me. I feel like I've come home.
Claire Robson, Pink Triangle Press/Xtra West Writer of the Year
One of the ways in which I encourage queer seniors to write their personal histories is through Quirk-e. This is a new program in Vancouver; it's a community art program. Quirk-e stands for Queer Imaging and Riting Kollective for Elders, and it's part of the arts, health and seniors project. There are four groups. We're the queer group, we're the biggest group, we're the quirkiest group and we're the noisiest group.
I want to thank Xtra West for noticing us. Queer seniors as a population I think are often invisible and often marginalized.
I want to thank the members of Quirk-e. Their work is astonishing. It's work that celebrates the diverse, challenging, dangerous voices of seniors. Thanks again to Xtra West for this award, which I accept as a compliment to Quirk-e, and thanks to all the Quirk-es for allowing me to join them in their journey.
Michael V Smith, Community Hero of the Year
I am very good at dismissing attention that isn't self-motivated. I like to make people look at me on my own terms. So I spent a lot of time, when people congratulated me on the nomination, saying, 'Oh, whatever.' But it does sincerely move me. It's very nice to be nominated and it's very nice to win.
I was a very lonely child. I felt like I was the only person in the world like myself. And I feel like all of my life and all my creative practice has been about trying to find other people like me. And the older I get the more I realize that everybody is like me and we all feel, at some point, that we are outsiders.
The way to not feel like an outsider is to be more generous with yourself. I would not be here if I didn't have many people who gave of themselves to me, who nurtured me, looked out for me, and made things possible with me and for me.
So I want to thank all of the people in my community, all of the people who've touched me and all of the people who have made life far more pleasurable as the years go on. I have a very, very rich life and this Vancouver queer community is hugely responsible for that. So thank you very much.
Richard Bell, Visual Artist of the Year
I am so sorry I couldn't be in Vancouver to accept this amazing award. I currently live in Toronto. Today I am packing to go to the Cannes Film Festival, to pitch and promote two new films I am developing.
I was really floored when I received news that I won Visual Artist of the Year for my film Eighteen--I can't imagine people writing in and going online to vote for me. I guess a part of me thought that Vancouver never got to see my film. But I suppose you did.
I am very honoured to be recognized by the gay community in Vancouver today. The unshakeable support of Xtra West and the Out on Screen Film Festival in the early days of my career really helped me along the way.
I must say that I miss Vancouver: the cheap sushi, English Bay, the mountains, Davie St, and sipping drinks on the patio at the Oasis--where coincidentally much of Eighteen was written. I'm not too sure if and when I will be back in Vancouver. But I want you to know how much I miss the West End, and how fondly I remember the Davie Village community, and the friends and acquaintances I've made along the way in this fun adventure.
Thank you for your continued and appreciated support of me and my movies.
Other winners include:
The Gulf Islands Secondary School's gay-straight alliance, Youth Activist of the Year
The owners of 1181, Business Citizen of the Year