Thoughts on Vancouver’s Gay Heritage by Kevin Dale McKeown

McKeown2Kevin Dale McKeown, then and now, was the Georgia Straight‘s first LGBT columnist.

In preparation for The Gay Heritage Project we reached out to Kevin Dale McKeown, The Georgia Straight’s gay news columnist from 1970 – 1975 and currently writing for the online publication Xtra. Here are his thoughts on gay heritage.

Vancouver’s queer community has a long and rich heritage, much of it preserved in oral histories (and barroom gossip) from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, some found in early newsletters of the Association for Sexual Knowledge (ASK) in the sixties, and then, beginning in the 70s in sometimes excruciating detail in my weekly column, “QQ Writes …. Page 69”, in the Georgia Straight, and in subsequent periodicals such as Your Thing, The Gay Canadian, and Angles, all precursors to the appearance in 1993 of Xtra West. There have been many milestones in that history, some of them global, some national, and many less well remembered moments in our own city.

My own appearance in a publicly circulated newspaper was a milestone of sorts, and the founding of Vancouver’s Gay Liberation Front (GLF), the efforts to desegregate our “men only” clubs and bars, the legal struggle of the Gay Alliance Towards Equality (GATE) against the Vancouver Sun over its refusal to publish classified ads with the word “gay”, the public rallies and protest during the 70s, and the first Gay Unity March in 1978, which evolved into today’s annual Pride parade are all top-of mind when I think of our heritage and history.


The founding of many organizations, especially the drag community’s Dogwood Monarchist Society, which helped rally our community during the terrible plague years during which AIDS took so many of our friends and loved ones, were milestones worth noting.

The opening of a pioneering gay and lesbian bookstore, Little Sisters, in 1983 and their subsequent legal fight with Canada Customs over our right to import and read books that were meaningful to us … there was a milestone!

Yes, we’ve come a long way and made a lot of progress. But I feel that our “community” is now in a challenging period where we are questioning the need for identity politics and squabbling within our ranks over issues that would have seemed irrelevant forty years ago. There is still work to do, and we need to preserve our history so that future generations remember their roots, how hard we fought for what we have, and realize how easily it could all be lost to us if we do not continue to stand together.

We have many allies now we didn’t have before. And we can work together with other marginalized groups to continue to push for advances on all fronts. But ultimately I believe that it is up to us to support and care for our own, and I think that begins with educating and supporting the next generation, and the one after that.

Speaking of identity politics, I dislike both the catch-all use of the word “queer” to represent our community, and the ever-morphing alphabet soup we’re burdened with today.

I’m all in favour of the use of a new acronym, which comes to us out of the London queer community, GSD, for Gender and Sexual Diversity. Doesn’t “GSD community” say it all, without putting anyone’s nose out of joint?

I look forward to hearing more about the history and heritage of the GSD community across Canada through The Gay Heritage Project, and sharing some of my own stories at the opening reception. –Kevin Dale McKeown

gayheritge_HomepageHeader_v1-01About The Gay Heritage Project: Three of our country’s most gifted creator/performers set out to answer one question: is there such a thing as gay heritage? In their search, they uncover a rich history not often shared and shine new light on contemporary gay culture. The result is a hilarious and moving homage to the people who came before us and the events that continue to shape our lives.

The Daisy Theatre’s Ronnie Burkett said we would be crazy not to program this show! “Celebratory, upbeat, and deeply moving” — Toronto Star

The Gay Heritage Project runs from March 2nd – 19th at The Historic Theatre, 1895 Venables Street, Vancouver. Tickets are available from $20. To purchase tickets click here



Beckett + Greek mythology + The Bachelorette?

In just two weeks, our 40th anniversary season kicks off with the Canadian premiere of Penelope, Enda Walsh’s critically acclaimed take on Homer’s The Odyssey. Brought to you by Rumble Theatre, the team behind The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, this show promises to be the first hit of the 13/14 season! We asked Stephen Drover, the show’s director and Rumble’s Artistic Director, to tell us a little bit about this extravagantly imaginative tale:

“In 2010, the Oberhausen Theatre in Germany was interested in exploring Homer’s The Odyssey and commissioned five playwrights to create new plays based on the epic poem. One of those five, Enda Walsh, was not very keen on the heroic journeys of the superhuman Odysseus nor his intrepid son Telemachus. Instead he was drawn to the degenerate bunch of suitors camping out at Odysseus’ home, trying to win the love of his hapless wife, Penelope. The result is a play that connects an ancient story with a contemporary sensibility and explores the surprising complexity of the story’s minor characters. For me, the play is an exciting intersection of the work of Samuel Beckett, the narratives of Greek mythology, and reality TV tropes like The Bachelorette and Big Brother. Its rich language and brutish male posturing form an odd marriage of the beautiful and brutal. The characters have realized that they are somewhat inconsequential – that the gods have forgotten about them – and they have constructed a complex and deluded game to give their lives meaning. From a certain perspective, I cannot help but sympathize.”

Stephen Drover is the Artistic Director of Rumble Theatre. As founding Artistic Director for Pound of Flesh Theatre, he adapted and/or directed The Bond, Macbeth, DenmarK (adapted from Hamlet), co-directed Everyone (at the Caravan Farm Theatre), and most recently directed The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at The Cultch. Other directing credits include: Romeo & Juliet, Leaving Home and Of the Fields, Lately (Theatre Newfoundland Labrador), PolitoKo (Ghost River Theatre), Boston Marriage (Guild Theatre, Whitehorse), The Pillowman (Wild Geese Co-op), The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (Carousel Theatre), and Skydive (Realwheels – for which he shares a Jessie Award for Outstanding Direction with Roy Surette). He lives in East Van with his wife, Sasa Brown, and their son, Jack.

Penelope runs from Sept 25 to October 13 at The Cultch’s Historic Theatre. Get your tickets before it’s too late!

Tickets start at $18 and can be purchased at, by phone at 604.251.1363, or in person at The Cultch Box Office, 1895 Venables St.