Granville Street’s night life is booming but the riotous crowds it attracts have some members of the Davie Street gay community worried about their safety.
However higher rates of reporting and better relations with police could be a sign that Vancouver is making progress in the prevention and prosecution of gay bashings.
“It’s gotten to where you have to stay away or play it straight,” said Klynt Domsky, who works on Granville and lives in the West End.
Sometimes it’s “faggot!” from a moving car. Sometimes obscene catcalls from groups of men on foot, but it happens, and it happens often.
The scariest part, he said, is knowing that verbal taunts can turn violent at any point, or with no warning at all.
In March, an assault on 62-year-old Richard Dowrey in a Davie Street bar resulted in severe brain damage.
A group of men attacked pilot Jordan Smith in an apparently unprovoked attack in September 2008, and assailants shattered Matthew Bordewick’s teeth on downtown’s Sunset Beach just a couple of weeks earlier.
“I was in total shock. I could feel bits of teeth coming out of my mouth,” Bordewick told CBC News shortly after the assault.
Historical data on gay bashing is hard to come by, because the crime is extremely under-reported, said the Vancouver Police Department Hate Crime Unit’s Cheryl Leggett.
When reported incidents go up, as they did following these high-profile attacks, it is not always clear if this reflects more assaults, or simply higher rates of reporting.
“We have not seen a spike in recent months,” Leggett said. “But if people are having these experiences, I can’t emphasize enough that they need to report them.”
“If you have something to tell, come and tell us,” she said, indicating that details from even brief incidents of verbal harassment can help apprehend and prosecute gay bashers.
Bright lights on Granville
Three years of construction-related road and sidewalk closures ended just in September, and business has surged visibly in the Granville entertainment district.
Downtown Granville on Friday and Saturday nights has a carnival aspect. Closed to cars and lit by neon billboards, the street reverberates with shouts, laughter and the underlying thump of bass from nightclubs that line the street, each with a set of stolid, black-clad bouncers to oversee its ragged line of sharply dressed twenty-somethings.
Late night eateries are packed with young men slumped drunkenly over three dollar slices of pizza and young women gamely trying to sit and eat donair in outfits designed for neither activity.
Widened sidewalks and a successful pilot project increasing police presence and closing the road to cars Friday and Saturday nights have led to a substantial decrease in fights between club-goers, said Dennis Murray, operations co-ordinator for the Granville Community Police Centre.
But none of these measures do much to prevent gay bashings, which often happen on side streets or on Davie itself, where police presence is considerably lighter.
“They’ve done everything obvious”
Relations between the Vancouver Police Department and the Davie Street gay village are good.
Chief Constable Jim Chu walks in the annual Pride Parade and spoke at a rally last October denouncing homophobic violence. Leggett’s unit, part of the Diversity & Aboriginal Policing Section, is making inroads with the community, traditionally resistant to police intercession.
“There’s always more that could be done, but I think they’ve done everything obvious,” said Jim Deva, proprietor of Little Sister’s Book & Art Emporium on Davie and a long-time community advocate. He added that his biggest request for the police department, to add more GLBT officers, will take time.
“My sense is that it’s better than it was four years ago, but worse than ten,” said Deva, “For a while things were really out of control down there. But there are still pockets of violence.”
Measures like increased security and better lighting can help to a degree, said Deva, but there is one simple thing bars, not police, should be doing to prevent assaults.
“They need to stop over-serving,” he said, and laughed, “Fat chance, I know. But that’s the big one. They need to stop over-serving.”
(Index photo on the front page courtesy of Thomas Milne)