British Columbia

Vancouverites walk out of the closet for gay history tour

Less than 25 years before the paint dried on Vancouver's permanent rainbow crosswalk, Davie Street was the target of bombings.

For guide Glenn Tkach, sharing these stories is personal and moving

Glenn Tkach leads a group across Vancouver's first permanent rainbow crosswalk during Forbidden Vancouver's Really Gay History Tour. (Kiri Marr)

About 25 years before the paint had dried on Vancouver's first permanent rainbow crosswalk on Davie Street in the city's West End, the heart of the city's gay community was the target of bombings in the 1980s.

"Death threats were made by people who were blaming the queer community, for example, for the AIDS epidemic," Glenn Tkach, head storyteller for The Really Gay History Tour, told Jason D'Souza on Our Vancouver

Vancouver is also to home to some positive firsts, including Canada's first openly gay person ordained in a mainstream Christian denomination.

The walking tour doesn't just cover the West End. It actually begins at the old provincial courthouse (now the Vancouver Art Gallery), site of "buggery" trials during the early 20th century.

Ron Dutton was a vital resource for the tour. In the 1970s, he start collecting and preserving journals, newspaper clippings and more, in his apartment. It became known as the B.C. Gay and Lesbian Archives, and Tkach got to pore through it there before it was donated to the City of Vancouver and digitized. Tkach also interviewed people who lived through that period.

Glenn Tkach pauses in front of a mural outside Qmunity, a non-profit "that works to improve queer, trans, and two-spirit lives." (Kiri Marr)

An emotional experience

The Really Gay History Tour is much more than just a sequence of dates and facts, according to Tkach. He has been sharing these stories for more than a year, and he always finds it a strong, emotional experience.

"Perhaps one of the most moving experiences that I've had on tour was from a teenage lesbian girl who came on the tour with her partner," he said, "And at the end of tour, she just burst into tears, and fell into my arms, and just thanked me for sharing these stories."

"I think, for younger people, there's a real hunger to understand the history and the lineage. Younger people understand there was a struggle, but they don't know what that struggle entailed."

Glenn Tkach says people are often surprised and moved by the stories he shares on his tour 5:10

With files from Our Vancouver