Vancouver's Granville Strip has earned a nation-wide reputation as a breeding ground for the messiest, most toxic aspects of club culture. Over the years it's grabbed headlines for sexual assaults and deadly sucker punches, but it's also more consistently a hub for catcalling, harassment, alcohol poisoning, and straight-up rude behaviour.
"It's a hotspot for people who are new to club culture, maybe they just moved to town for university," Stacey Forrester, organizer of Good Night Out Vancouver, told VICE. "It's definitely more of a mainstream environment: Like any nightlife hub in an urban centre, Vancouver isn't immune to the more negative aspects of that."
Forrester and Ashtyn Bevan helped bring the nightlife-focused anti-harassment and assault UK initiative Good Night Out to Vancouver, its only chapter so far in Canada. With it, the two women and a team of volunteers aim to shift the toxic culture that pervades the city's mainstream nightlife scene. This month their Nightlife Street Team took to the BC city's entertainment district for the first time to watch over club-goers in the street, intervening when necessary.
"We had no idea what to expect other than our own experiences on Granville Street, which were challenging as young women and as feminists," said Bevan, organizer with Good Night Out's Vancouver chapter.
The team, which is trained in First Aid and non-violent intervention, will be in the club district Fridays and Saturdays from midnight to 3 AM until the end of October as part of a pilot program.
VICE: This month you had your street team had its first weekend on Granville. Walk me through how that Friday night went.
Forrester: The shift started at midnight; we introduced ourselves to all the police officers along the strip, who were overall really positive and friendly. Then we went and introduced ourselves to as many bouncers as we could—we brought them doughnuts [laughs]. We let them know we were there and told them about the project. Then, what we thought was a wild time started. But Saturday night was twice as busy.
As soon as we started walking down Granville, we found an individual completely unconscious, but no one was responding to him. They actually sent him to the hospital. It was very eye-opening to find individuals sleeping or passed out with no contact with their friends. Although it was a little hectic, it showed that what we are doing is needed.
Did you have to deal with any fights or violence?
Forrester: We totally stayed in our lanes when it comes to violence. It was never our mandate to be involved in any sort of male aggro fighting situation. Although there were fights, which I'm sure are par for the course, our role is to get police there as soon as possible. But they were super on it. There was more the mild micro-aggressions that we inserted ourselves into by having a presence and being super friendly and interjecting in power dynamic.
What about street harassment like catcalling?
Ashtyn Bevan: There was quite a bit of it. When we were roaming, especially on Saturday night, there was a lot of toxic masculine energy in the air. A lot of men were roaming around the street just trying to follow women. A lot of times we would just hover behind to make sure it wasn't going to get too intense. We did step in a few times to interrupt the catcalls and tell them it was inappropriate or check in with the women after.
Forrester: Or just keep walking with them to their destination so that the circling person just kind of gave up [laughs].
Can you talk about your own experiences you've have on Granville personally?
Bevan: Granville Street for me, you go there when you're young, and it's a nightmare. There's a lot of aggression, a lot of crying. It's not the most fun. I haven't been there since I was really young. I also worked in the nightlife industry for a while. I worked for a mainstream club, handed out tickets. I would promote on the street, and it was the same thing… You didn't really feel super safe when you were on the street. That was a big motivation bringing Good Night Out to Vancouver, because we wanted to see a cultural shift in the downtown.
Forrester: It's not stuff that's unique to this city. It's stuff that is a problem with mainstream club culture everywhere in terms of booking hyper-masculine acts, letting women in for free so there's this power imbalance. Those are things that are common with club culture everywhere, and us coming from a background where we prefer to participate in more underground shows and knowing how that feels in terms of safety: You can be a total weirdo in the best possible way, and you're still celebrated there. [We] wanted that to spill over and be part of Vancouver's nightlife culture as well, because that strip is very vibrant, and there's great spaces there. There's lots of cross-genre… In terms of demographics, there's lots of demographic crossover. It makes me sad there's a few block radius where people don't want to participate in it because of behaviours.
How can we make nightlife culture less toxic for women and LGBTQ+ folks?
Forrester: I think it's all about diversification on every single level. For promoters and people who do bookings, to open up your brains than women and femmes and the queer community can participate in every single level from being a promoter, to playing music, to doing sound and light, to being on security staff… It really is a bottom-up thing, but a really simple part is knowing how to recognize harassment and feeling compelled to intervene and not just watch it happen.
Bevan: Yeah, supporting one another if you see poor behaviour on the dancefloor. You don't have to get aggressive about it to interrupt that behaviour, but having a soft approach, even educating people, like, this isn't acceptable, it's 2017. Everyone should be able to have fun.
I'm going to pose a scenario to you and ask what you would do. It's something I witnessed before in Toronto. There was a girl who was passed out on the ground in a gutter. Her friend was trying to help her. There were these guys who circled around trying to videotape her on their phones. What would you do in that situation?
Forrester: That's a super-real problem. We live in this digital age where hearing that rubs you the wrong way, but legally they're allowed to do it. Ashtyn and I are kind of notorious for getting up into people's faces in terms of correcting people's behaviour. Just because something isn't illegal, it doesn't mean you should be doing it. We would probably take a direct approach, like, "Hey, what you're doing isn't OK. Stop filming her." [We might] even make a barricade around that individual so they can't film. Also, in that kind of situation, harassment is power-based, so taking the power off them and maybe trying to distract them: What are you filming? Where did you go tonight? Maybe doing something really ridiculous in front of the camera to deflect that power off that unconscious target.
When you audit a venue, what are you looking for?
Forrester: We collected some feedback about what factors make people feel unsafe in both built environment and social environment. There are some really practical things: Is the entrance in a janky alleyway with no light where you can't see the address if you needed to call a cab? Do they offer free water? Is it possible to spike the water, or is it in a closed container? Can you see a bouncer or staff member from all corners of the dancefloor? Do you see them patrolling regularly? Are they checking the washrooms? Are there gender-neutral washrooms? Did you witness or overhear anything like a homophobic comment or harassment? The plan is that any member of the public can submit an audit because we know safety is super subjective. How I experience it is going to be different from how Ashtyn does; it's going to be different from how you do.
We don't post those results, but we use them as a conversation starter to get into venues: "Hey, we've had some members of the public submit some feedback. Can we book a time to talk to you and maybe see what you can do even better?"
How has the reception in the nightlife industry been to the work you're doing from people who work at venues?
Forrester: There's such high turnover in the nightlife industry. All it takes is one person in management who doesn't see this as a problem for all our hard work with that venue to be recoiled a bit…
Bevan: In the past, especially when we first started, we would go and talk to venues' managers, and they'd be like, "Oh, that kind of stuff doesn't happen here. It's fine." But most of the time, the stories would be about the security staff or a staff member having inappropriate behaviour. It's kind of a slap in the face. But the Granville Street right now has been really reassuring because all the security staff and everyone we've talked to who work at the venues have been really, really supportive.
What would be your recommendation for people who are looking to set up a similar initiative in their city?
Forrester: Toronto has Dandelion… Montreal has an organization called Pluri, which is super sweet. I think the fact that this is happening elsewhere shows that rape culture is pervasive. It's everywhere. All of these projects are formalizing the emotional labour that women often do at parties anyway. There's almost always the sober women who are checking in on everyone and making sure everyone gets home. Formalizing it is super important.
Bevan: Reaching out to the head of Good Night Out in the UK was super easy… There's a bunch of resources we all share with each other, so If someone sees this and wants to set up Good Night Out in Toronto, it's an open book.
You'll see underground parties taking public stances on anti-harassment and inclusive policies, but it's not something larger, more corporate venues do.
Forrester: We can't ever pretend that any specific scene is immune to this, because it's not. But I think what we can learn is that if DIY venues and shows that don't have a lot of money or people behind them can do it, then there's absolutely zero reason why bigger venues and promotion companies can't do it. Any reasons they have for it are total bullshit. It's just that they don't want to do the work. It's hard to admit that what essentially makes your club money is also really problematic. The mainstream nightlife culture has been built on the backs of women, femmes, and people of colour for entertainment purposes; challenging that means accepting that it's a problem, which is hard to do. But the underground scene is showing that it can be done, you just have to want to do it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.