An Insider’s Guide to LGBTQ Vancouver
Growing up in small-town Alberta in the ‘80s, Glenn Tkach was, in his own words, “deeply closeted, as you can imagine.” But moving to Vancouver to attend theater school 25 years ago helped nudge him out of that closet. It’s the city he now calls home, and for the past three years he’s been leading groups from downtown Vancouver into the heart of the queer village on Forbidden Vancouver’s Really Gay History Tour.
More than a guide, Glenn is a storyteller. “I love telling stories—especially stories that preserve history and tradition.” In the two hours it takes for Glenn to lead his group to Davie Village, he’s talked about the Two-Spirit traditions of the First Nations people; he’s walked through more than a century of oppression, resistance, activism, and heroism; and he’s introduced trailblazers like Jim Deva and Janine Fuller.
“Queer history is something that has all too often been overlooked or denied or erased,” Glenn says, and "it's so important for these stories to be brought into the light of day, and for us to be able to see who our heroes are and how they fought for the rights we now enjoy.”
He’s the person to ask, in other words, if you’re seeking out Vancouver’s LGBTQ2+ legacy and community.
Your guide to LGBTQ Vancouver
“Vancouver's relationship with queer life and queer culture is really built into its DNA. Vancouver is a city that has all kinds of diversity, including all kinds of ethnic, cultural, sexual, and gender diversity, and it's all on display all the time,” Glenn says.
Vancouver’s LGBTQ neighborhoods
“The West End is obviously where you want to be [especially if you're visiting] during Pride. That's the gayborhood!” Glenn says. Davie Village, part of the West End area, “is probably one the most vibrant queer villages on the continent. Commercial Drive, though less well known to tourists, is another very queer neighborhood—always has been—with its own fascinating history. Plus, it’s where the annual Dyke March happens, on the Saturday before the Pride parade.”
Where to learn about Vancouver’s LGBTQ+ history
“My tour is a great place to start!” Glenn says, but he also recommends paying a visit to Qmunity, Vancouver's queer resource centre, and the BC Gay and Lesbian Archives, which is hosted at the City of Vancouver Archives.
The best places to get a drink and meet others
“There's lots of temporary patio spaces that have been set up [due to COVID],” Glenn says: “I'd recommend a walk up and down Davie Street. Some of my favourite spots are the Junction, the Fountainhead, and PumpJack.” “If you're here in summer,” he adds, “check out the Vancouver Queer Film Festival.”
Must-visit LGBTQ-owned institutions
Little Sister's, a legendary bookstore on Davie Street, is one of Glenn’s favorite spots. “They played a major role in the fight against censorship and government persecution in Canada. In the days before the internet, access to queer information and materials was limited. It was important to have places like Little Sister's—especially given the persecution they endured and the pressure to close their doors,” Glenn says: “But their doors are still open! I'm so glad they are still around to serve the community.”
All about Vancouver Pride
A brief history of Vancouver Pride
“I've always been really impressed with the way Vancouver Pride Society has respected our host nations in celebrating Pride,” Glenn says: “One thing that is noteworthy about our celebrations is that they don't happen in June. Why is that? Well, going back to our very first Pride celebrations, the Greater Vancouver Native Cultural Society (GVNCS) played a role. In June, they hadn't yet elected a new Chief and Princess. It was important to everyone that the newly elected Chief and Princess be a part of Pride, so organizers moved the events to August. I just love that.”
“In 2018, the first year that I was leading the tour, I watched the parade and I noticed that each of our three host nations (the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh nations) had their own floats. They were up front and center, leading the parade, along with the GVNCS. My heart swelled with pride. This is how it should be.”
The importance of Pride
“Pride has changed a lot over the years. It's become a celebration for the whole city. It's lost the flavour of protest and defiance,” Glenn says: “But I have to admit, I like the way it's turned into a city-wide celebration. Queer people have blazed the trail in this fight, but the victory is everybody's. All of us benefit from the freedoms that queer people have won. Even folks who aren't queer are more free to be different, unique, themselves. I'm proud that queer people have blazed this trail, but I'm glad that everyone can reap the rewards. Pride is for everybody.”