Vancouver Pride honours a proud legacy of LGBT progress

Vancouver’s gay-liberation pioneers get their due at this year’s Pride celebration

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      With many developments and accomplishments to look back upon during the past few decades, this year is a coming-of-age for local LGBT communities that arose to overcome invisibility, exclusion, discrimination, persecution, and suffering. Reflection upon queer history became particularly pronounced over this past year, as it was at the annual Pride Week proclamation held by the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) at the Robson Street side of the Vancouver Art Gallery on July 27.

      VPS board cochair Michelle Fortin explained to attendees that the location was chosen because in 1958, activist ted northe stood upon the steps of the then Vancouver courthouse with a sign stating “I am a human being” while dressed in drag. As his stand is frequently credited with sparking a national LGBT-rights movement, a commemorative event will be held on August 18 by Canada’s Q Hall of Fame to honour the 60th anniversary of that protest.

      VPS cochairs Michelle Fortin and Charmaine de Silva
      Craig Takeuchi

      Also at the event, VPS cochair Charmaine de Silva spoke about how the growth and evolution of Pride are “a testament to how much our community has made advancements and strides over the past 40 years”, although “the work and fight for human rights isn’t over.” (Incidentally, the VPS teamed up with walking-tour company Forbidden Vancouver to launch the Really Gay History Tour, which continues until November, to teach participants little-known facts about the city’s queer history.)

      “We are all recipients of a legacy which strove to carve out a space for us, not to assimilate but to be ourselves,” de Silva said, “and as we celebrate this milestone, we honour the elders whose activism afforded us the ability to have these conversations today, and at the same time, we look to the youth who are making groundbreaking strides in creating a culture in which we can openly embrace every part of our identity.”

      In talking about this year’s Pride theme, Be You: Be All of You, Fortin explained: “We all come with complex histories and backgrounds, and yet in so many spaces we feel pressure to compartmentalize our identities.”

      Emcee Joan-E
      Craig Takeuchi

      However, not everyone has the opportunity to do so. Vancouver drag queen Joan-E, who MCed the event, offered a global context for the proceedings. “For many people across the world, this event would be the most remarkable thing they had ever attended, and yet for us, blessedly, it’s a traditional thing we do every year,” she told the crowd. “In many places across the world, being able to get dressed, hold one of these flags, [and] assemble or officially celebrate Pride would be nothing more than a dream.”

      Joan-E introduced Coun. Tim Stevenson—who has helped represent LGBT people in his official capacity for more than two decades—to read out the official proclamation for Vancouver Pride Week, which runs until the Vancouver Pride parade on August 5. Stevenson said it was a “bittersweet day” for him to read his last proclamation, as he won’t be running for city council again. Referring to the city’s declaration in May of the Year of the Queer, which recognized the significant anniversaries of numerous local LGBT organizations, the proclamation noted that “collectively these organizations have provided 330 years of service to our community, and continue to make significant contributions to the social, cultural, and artistic landscape of Vancouver.”

      Coun. Tim Stevenson with ASL-English interpreter Laine Le Vecque
      Craig Takeuchi

      De Silva and Fortin also introduced this year’s parade marshals: two-spirit activist Laurie McDonald, gay-liberation archivist Ron Dutton, and the “A Mile in Our Moccasins” filmmaking team.

      McDonald, who is from the Enoch Cree Nation in Alberta, is a residential-school survivor and cofounded the Greater Vancouver Native Cultural Two-Spirit Society, which celebrated its 41st anniversary. “I must recognize and put my hands up to all those pioneers who came and stood in this city and fought those prejudices and still survived,” he said.

      Left to right: Vancouver Pride Society cochairs Michelle Fortin and Charmaine de Silva, Greater Vancouver Native Cultural Two-Spirit Society founder Laurie McDonald, and ASL-English interpreter Laine Le Vecque
      Craig Takeuchi

      Dutton similarly praised the historical work of queer seniors and organizations, media coverage, academics, and those in cultural fields, such as artists, designers, filmmakers, poets, and authors. “No individual builds a public institution,” he said. “It’s the labour of many people over many, many years, of whom I am just one.”

      Dutton began collecting items from the nascent gay-liberation movement in the 1970s to create the B.C. Gay and Lesbian Archives. After he accumulated some 750,000 items, which outgrew his storage capabilities, the archives were relocated to the City of Vancouver Archives in March 2018.

      VPS cochair Michelle Fortin and B.C. Gay and Lesbian Archives founder Ron Dutton
      Craig Takeuchi

      But it’s not just elder generations that are being honoured. The third parade marshal is the five Indigenous youths who created the documentary short “A Mile in Our Moccasins” to address HIV stigma and misconceptions and to offer stories and information about HIV and sexual health in an Indigenous cultural context.

      Lulu Gurney, one of the film’s creators, linked this year’s Pride theme to how people can support those with HIV.

      “If you want to help someone like myself who is living with HIV, then I encourage you guys to be you as an ally, as a support, as a person to connect with, also someone to just share some time with.”

      William Flett and Lulu Gurney of the "A Mile in Our Moccasins" filmmaking team
      Craig Takeuchi

      In celebration of “four decades of drag”, as Fortin put it, drag performances by Misty Meadows and Kendall Gender were interwoven into the proclamation event.

      Before her closing performance, Gender reflected upon being able to walk with a friend, both in drag, across town while receiving support from onlookers.

      “It was one of those moments where we kind of stood and we looked at each other and I am like, ‘I am so thankful to live in a city that is so progressive and so welcoming and so loving,’ ” she said. “I live every day so thankful that I can be myself—for all of you.”

      Kendall Gender and Joan-E
      Craig Takeuchi