At the official launch of Pride Week at City Hall on July 30, just prior to the raising of the rainbow flag, a panel of representatives from Vancouver's queer communities assembled to address the current state of affairs.
When reverend Gary Paterson, an openly gay minister at St. Andrew's-Wesley United Church who moderated the panel, introduced Robertson, he talked about how Toronto mayor Rob Ford did not attend Pride parades there and showed up for a raising of the rainbow flag unexpectedly (on the International Day Against Homophobia in May, although he failed to show up for Toronto's Pride Week flag raising in June).
"But that is completely opposite to the mayor that we have in Vancouver who has always supported this community," Paterson said. "And I know that when he decided to run for mayor, I didn't even have to ask him whether he would be supportive. That would have been an insult to ask Gregor Robertson that question."
However, Robertson won't be able to attend the Pride parade this year as he will be on a business mission to the Olympics in London, England.
Mayor Gregor Robertson made an introductory speech about the progress made for equal rights and social progress for queer people in this city.
Vancouver Pride Society president Tim Richards followed with a speech, and called for a moment of silence for "those who have passed and gave life to the struggle for equality and believed in a better tomorrow".
The panel consisted of Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation vice-chair and commissioner Trevor Loke, Vancouver Coastal Health Advisory Group to the Transgender Health Program chair Gayle Roberts, SFU criminology professor Brian Burtch, Out on Screen youth outreach coordinator Jen Sung, Vancouver Pride Society communications coordinator Landon Krentz, former Vancouver city councillor Ellen Woodsworth, deputy provincial health officer and Coast Salish actor Evan Adams, performer Jan Derbyshire, Electronic Arts game producer Kelly Worrall, and Vancouver city councillor Tim Stevenson.
The panel discussion spanned a wide range of topics, including everything from homophobia, transphobia, and bullying to lesbian issues, gender disparities, and health care.
Trevor Loke acknowledged and thanked previous generations have paved the way for his generation, including marriage equality and hate-crime protection. But he had some tough words for homophobic harassment.
"At home, we've witnessed the horrific harassment of queer youth, the physical, verbal, and psychological abuse which our youth endure," Loke said. "We've sugarcoated it by calling it bullying, and told the victims 'It gets better.' And telling someone who has lived through that sort of trauma that they just need to hang tight is a cop out. We need to make it better."
He emphasized that it's important for his generation not to rest on their laurels.
"If we do not continue to push forward together now in the pursuit of justice, then we risk taking a step backwards at the peril of the next generation," Loke said.
Jan Derbyshire, who joked that she was a tomboy who became a tomman, noted that while it's a time for celebration, she also cautioned about how the partying aspect of queer culture can become a closet in itself.
"There's still a lot of shame. There's still a lot of hiding. I love the party," she said. "But when the party continues as a way of hiding who we are, or hiding the shame, or hiding emotions that will get diagnosed and medicated, then we need to talk more."
Kelly Worrall, who transitioned from male to female while working at Electronic Arts, had similar conflicted feelings about the celebratory aspect of Pride. She pointed out that the transphobia that exists within queer communities can leave trans people out in the cold.
"I have sometimes a really hard time with the party because for transgender people, life is not yet worth celebrating at that level," she said. "When we talk about income disparity, the disparity in income even between gays and lesbians versus transgender people is enormous. When we talk about acceptance, trans women are still largely not accepted in lesbian communities….We face discrimination 100 percent of the time. We're always out wherever we go….We don't always feel welcome within the queer community either….We are still waiting for our time."
However, not wanting to be a "big downer", she does think that "our celebration, thank goodness, is around the corner".
She thinks the key is education. "One significant thing that needs to happen is we need to have an education campaign for the population to let them know that trans people are actually okay."
Tim Stevenson used the example of Chinese footbinding as a metaphor for how the growth of queer communities has been impeded. He pointed out that if a foot was suddenly released from being bound, it would not immediately recover. Instead, he pointed out, it would take time and care.
"Then comes the job of our community to help each one of us to slowly try to bring that unbound foot maybe back to some place that it might be, as it would have been if our society wasn't the same," he said. "And for some people, that might go relatively easily. For others, it's really tough. Our job is to encourage and help each other to slowly move that foot."
After the panel, the assembly moved outside for the raising of the rainbow flag, emceed by city manager Penny Ballem.
Mayor Robertson read out an official proclamation for Pride Week.
While Vancouver Pride Society president Tim Richards spoke about numerous gains queer communities have to celebrate, he also reminded the audience about what still needs to be done.
To everyone's surprise, even the Queen made a special (and entertaining) appearance at the event.
Her Dragesty was actually one of the Pride parade's grand marshals, Bill Munroe.
To conclude the event, the rainbow flag was raised at Vancouver City Hall.