Before it was reclaimed to celebrate difference, the word “queer” was employed to punch down on people with minority sexual orientation and gender identity. The term and other like pejoratives have a dark past on the North Shore, which in part includes a former notorious columnist at this newspaper.
It’s this embattled history that’s at the heart of a new art show, Queer Bash. The exhibition opens with a reception Thursday evening (May 18) at CityScape Community ArtSpace in North Vancouver, and will be running daily until July 1. On opening night, attendees will have the opportunity to meet the artists while viewing their evocative creations.
Queer Bash is curated by Andy Warner, social engagement manager with North Van Arts. This is the first time in the organization's 54 years that it will be putting on a show that exclusively presents 2SLGBTQ+ artists, she said.
But the idea for the exhibit came from Doug Collins, a columnist at the North Shore News from 1984 to 1997. Collins was known for his homophobic views as well as his Holocaust denialism. The latter led to him becoming the first person found guilty of B.C.’s anti-hate legislation in 1999.
“He was someone who regularly called us queers,” said Warner, who is a transgender woman. “And it was a slur back in the day – it still is to many people. But for many Gen Zs, queer is a word that we are reclaiming both for our sexualities to describe that they are different than the norm, but to also to recognize that our genders are queer, for many of us … that are using this word to signify a celebration of difference.”
The “bash” part of the event’s title is to throw a celebration of queer artists and their resiliency, locally and worldwide.
Queer Bash to show traditional as well as softer side of resistance
When discussions around having more queer programming at North Van Arts were happening around five years ago, lots of folks weren’t sure how their art would be received in the community, Warner said.
“In my personal experience growing up in North Vancouver, I was queer bashed my whole life,” she said, reflecting on the troubled history that extends to the education system. Warner reflected on B.C. Human Rights Tribunal case in the early 2000s between North Vancouver School Board and a former Handsworth student who was subjected to homophobic bullying.
The board argued it shouldn’t be liable for students’ behaviour, and won an appeal in B.C. Supreme Court on the grounds that the student wasn’t gay. But the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned that decision in 2005, which was considered a landmark victory for anti-bullying in schools.
Warner said bringing attention to this history is important because it reminds people that hate against queer people, and trans people, isn’t just an issue affecting folks elsewhere. As evidenced by a group of demonstrators gathering on the Mountain Highway overpass, the debate of free speech vs. hate speech is still carrying on in North Vancouver.
“Thirty or 40 years later, the same arguments of, ‘Well, that would never happen in North Vancouver – North Vancouver is a place for everyone. That’s an American problem. We don’t really have that over here.’ When in fact we still do,” Warner said.
“People are still being queer bashed over here … but it’s something that we hope will change.”
Through the exhibition, Warner said the artists want to show they are resisting in traditional ways – like the anger and passion typical of resistance movements – but also in ways people might not consider.
For example, there's the purple and polka-dotted plushie-esque costume designed by Ivy Hazard that is featured on Queer Bash’s promotional materials.
“Miss Funny Business is a personification of the community care that we have to implement ourselves, because we don’t have the police on our side, and we don’t have especially many politicians on our side beyond Pride Month,” Warner said.
Many people don’t consider other health-care elements that are vital for trans folks, such as coverage for hormones and surgery, she added. “Even changing your name costs 930 bucks.”
“There are trans rights that we need in B.C. desperately. We can resist and we can protest loudly, but we can also resist and protest in softer ways.”
Where: CityScape Community ArtSpace, 335 Lonsdale Ave.
When: May 19 to July 1
Opening reception: Thursday, May 18, 7 to 9 p.m.
Curator tour: Saturday, June 3, 2 to 3:30 p.m.
Visit the North Van Arts website for more info.