Pride 2014: Vancouver City Hall's flag-raising "where the streets are paved with rainbows"
Not only did Vancouver City Hall have an official raising of the Pride rainbow flag, but staff also hung a massive rainbow flag on the north side of the building.
Coun. Tim Stevenson joked about it in his remarks at the flag-raising ceremony on July 28.
"First thing this morning, I was driving up Cambie Street and I saw that [rainbow] flag up there—that magnificent huge flag—and I thought, 'I wonder if we can send that to Toronto to wrap around city hall in Toronto and help out Mayor Ford?'," he said to laughter and applause from the assembled audience that included politicians, organizations, and citizens. "I can tell you, working with the mayor in Vancouver—Gregor Robertson—has been so, so easy in comparison to what they have to deal with in Toronto."
Stevenson added that all the city hall staff have been extremely supportive and that even the Vancouver police chief Jim Chu participated in a staff photograph wearing a "To Sochi With Love" shirt.
Mayor Gregor Robertson gave a summary of some of the notable gains made for the local LGBT communities over the past few years.
"We've taken steps here at City Hall, and park board and school board, to ensure that we build a city that is louder, prouder, and stronger," he said.
He listed Stevenson's mission to Sochi earlier this year to advocate for LGBT rights in the Olympics, the $7-million in community amenity contributions secured for creating a new queer comunity centre run by Qmunity in the West End, the granting of Civic event status to the Vancouver Pride parade, and the creation of Canada's first permanent rainbow crosswalks in the West End.
"We are proud to be a city where inclusion is written into our laws and, in some places, where the streets are paved with rainbows," he said. He then read the official proclamation to declare Pride Week in Vancouver.
Drag queen Joan-E, who hosted the ceremony, talked about the significance of having such an event.
"No matter how many times I come here for this event, it really touches me in an important way that we're here in this progressive wonderful city where we can have a flag-raising ceremony outside city hall," she said. "There are many, many places in the world far away and some not that far away where an event like this would still be a very far off dream. It's an excellent event…at the municipal level with an international focus and it really brings also the spotlight and responsibility on to the provincial and federal levels of government that also need to step up and ensure that we're working together to have a society where we end discrimination and everybody has equal opportunity."
She also mentioned the changes made by the Vancouver School Board and Vancouver Park Board to become more transgender and gender variant inclusive.
"I think Vancouver is setting itself as a world-class pioneer on trans rights and all the work that's been done by council and through the parks board and the school board trustees."
Vancouver Pride Society president Tim Richards provided a solemn global context to put the local celebration, now in its 36th year, in perspective.
"Two out of five people live in countries where their citizens can be fined or imprisoned for being LGBTQ," he said. "In five countries, I could be executed for being gay. Less than 15 percent of the world's population live in countries where there are laws providing equality for LGBTQ people. Not one country provides all LGBTQ people with the same equal rights as straight people. Currently in Canada, gender identity and expression is not included in the federal human rights act."
He talked about the grand marshals for the parade this year, including filmmaker and activist Gwen Haworth (She's a Boy I Knew), who advocates for transgender health issues, and the late LGBT activist and pioneer ted northe.
"ted northe, our posthumous grand marshal, contributed over 56 years of activism before passing away this past spring," he said. "ted, who organized the very first Pride march in 1963, was a driving force in defining the modern LGBT community and human rights movement in Canada."
Another grand marshal is WinterPRIDE producer Dean Nelson, who helped create the first-ever Pride House at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler. Nelson spoke at the event about the need to address homophobia in sport, and how even the 10th annual Vancouver Pride Run and Walk was one of the first timed running event in North America to include a third gender category.
The flag-raising ceremony took place after a panel discussion held in the council chambers about what the city can do to help LGBT refugees.