Year of the Queer: Activism still underscores queer events from Vancouver Pride to the Dyke March
Consider, if you will, what the acronym LGBT and its numerous variations convey: there isn’t just one community—it’s an amalgamation of diverse groups. So how do umbrella organizations bring together multiple communities with different, sometimes conflicting needs and identities while being inclusive and accessible to everyone?
That’s something that the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) has faced with increasing frequency during its 40-year history.
VPS community partnerships coordinator Kaschelle Thiessen, who has been researching the organization’s history, told the Georgia Straight by phone that nascent local marches and movements in the 1970s and ’80s (which sometimes sparked the distribution of hate-filled flyers in opposition) tended to use the word gay in their names, like Gay Unity ’81 or Gay Liberation. But over the years, more groups began to be recognized, precipitating change and expansion.
“The reason that the community started to come together was because as a coalition, as a group, we can only be stronger and we can enact better political change and policy change if we band together and stand together,” Thiessen said.
Accordingly, VPS executive director Andrea Arnot, in a conference call, said that they’re now prioritizing the “most marginalized voices” within LGBT communities and actively seek them out “because often they’re people who wouldn’t normally engage with Pride”.
Thiessen explained that because LGBT communities are not a “homogenous group”, they’re now looking at ways to shift attention to those who have been previously neglected or excluded.
What has also helped, in a diverse region like Metro Vancouver, is other events, movements, and organizations that have arisen to address specific groups and offer alternatives.
In her separate role as social-media coordinator for the Vancouver Dyke March and Festival (VDMF), Thiessen pointed out that the VDMF can appeal to women and nonbinary individuals, including bisexual, trans, and other people who don’t feel represented by or who don’t identify with other events.
Although the first VDMF happened in 1981, it hasn’t always been held annually, as it is a volunteer-driven effort with minimal funding.
Through sheer dedication, the event has continued despite challenges, and in an email to the Straight, VDMF board of directors president Claire Ens said that the 15th march and festival, to be held on August 4, will “focus on the generational contributions, evolutions, and progressions made throughout the years”, with an eye on the future.
Further alternatives, considering Vancouver’s multicultural composition, include LGBT ethnic and linguistic groups, which help to give voice and presence in unprecedented ways.
One example is that the Surrey-based South Asian LGBT group—which celebrated its 10th-anniversary gala on April 22—marched for its first time in both Vancouver’s and Surrey’s Vaisakhi parades in 2017.
The organization, founded by Alex Sangha, has grown from an online group to an incorporated nonprofit society and offers everything from school outreach workshops, counselling, and immigrant assistance to peer support and social events.
Other examples include the Asian lesbian, bisexual, and trans group Monsoon and the LGBT refugee advocacy group Rainbow Refugee Society, both of which are celebrating their 20th anniversary.
Yet now that LGBT rights and acceptance have been gained in many areas, are such organizations’ events still needed?
Definitely, according to both Arnot and Thiessen.
As testimony to its own success, the Vancouver Pride parade (which will be held on August 5) has evolved from an event in which some participants wore bags over their heads for fear of losing their jobs if outed to becoming one of the premier summer attractions in the city, one that draws thousands of spectators.
However, Arnot pointed out that even if some LGBT legislation has passed, there is still work to be done.
“Societal change often follows a little bit behind laws,” Thiessen explained, citing the fresh example of the April SOGI 123 protest against diverse sexual orientation and gender expression in schools.
Thiessen added that although everyone has a different perception of what Pride is, and even if it appears celebratory, the activism that got things going still underscores the present-day incarnation.
“I think anytime that you have a group that is shutting down half the city for a day and carving out space to be unabashedly and unapologetically queer and trans in a homophobic and transphobic society, that is inherently political,” she said.