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Love ya if it's free.

In May, exactly 25 years after Ottawa decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults, a savage gay-bashing in Vancouver's west end offered grim evidence of how persistent one of patriarchy's deepest phobias is. The unprovoked assault in front of a Davie Street coffee bar sent three gay men to hospital and left a fourth man with a broken wrist. But unlike previous gay bashings, three of the five bashers on Davie were tackled by onlookers and held until police arrived and arrested them.

"What this has done is help create a community," the night manager of the coffee bar told the Vancouver Sun. "We're not the victims that these guys seemed to think. We fought back."

The swift reaction to the assailants suggests that a new mood is building within the gay community in Vancouver and elsewhere - a mood that calls for a heightened level of collective self-defense against homophobic hate crimes, foot-dragging legislators and the frightening spate of anti-gay ballot measures south of the border.

Here in British Columbia where the provincial government reputedly supports equal rights for gays and lesbians, legislative progress has been disappointing. Premier Mike Harcourt's government was quick to deliver on its election promise to amend the provincial Human Rights Act, making it illegal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in the areas of housing and employment. But expanding BC's legal definition of spouse to include same-sex couples may be years away, according to Attorney General Colin Gableman.

Worse still, in a shameless display of psuedo-progress, Harcourt's government has begun recognizing same-sex couples when it benefits the government by disqualifying people for social assistance or enhanced medical coverage. But no such recognition is afforded same-sex couples on issues that will cost the government, such as provincial income tax deductions, property rights, inheritance rights and other entitlements currently enjoyed by heterosexual couples.

A Victoria couple is caught in the nexus of this hypocrisy. Last August, the Social Services ministry terminated Josh Gavel's enhanced medical coverage, saying that Brian Ritchie, Gavel's partner of four years, should pick up the tab for Gavel's $400 monthly bills for prescription drugs for his HIV-positive condition. But due to the federal government's refusal to recognize same-sex couples, Ritchie can't claim a tax credit for Gavel's uninsured medical expenses, which will rise to $20,000 yearly if Gavel develops full-blown AIDS, driving the couple into bankruptcy.

Ritchie, who works as an accountant, says he'll lose $5,000 in tax credits on his 1994 return - credits that would be available to him if his spouse were a woman. And he wants the provincial government to provide interim compensation until Ottawa amends its own definition of spouse to include same-sex couples.

"The province is in a far better position than [I am] to go up against the federal government to recoup these costs," Ritchie explains. The BC Persons With AIDS Society agrees and is urging the provincial government to provide interim compensation to all same-sex couples in this predicament. Finance Minister and Deputy Premier Elizabeth Cull nixed the compensation request earlier this year, stating "it could be quite expensive." And Gableman reportedly told Ritchie and Gavel it would be at least two and a half years before BC would expand the definition of spouse to offer full benefits (not just penalties) to same-sex couples.

"In light of HIV and AIDS and the thousands of same-sex couples with the same problems as us, two and a half years is simply not a reasonable length of time," Brian says. There will be a lot of people who die in two and a half years, and they'll die in poverty under the current situation."
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Title Annotation:gay issues in government
Author:Goldberg, Kim
Publication:Canadian Dimension
Article Type:Column
Date:Aug 1, 1994
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