Whistler's WinterPRIDE hasn't lost sight of queer rights

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      Sure, WinterPRIDE has everything from outdoor activities galore to parties, shows, food, and more. But beneath its snow-covered glitz and glamour, Whistler’s 21st annual ski week extravaganza (which runs February 3 to 10, www.gaywhistler.com/ ) hasn’t lost sight of queer rights.

      In a phone interview, WinterPRIDE executive producer Dean Nelson points out that attendees come from places around the world—including parts of North America—where they can’t hold hands or express their love in public. Or get married.

      “Human rights have always been a focus of WinterPRIDE since…we first started,” Nelson says. “We have so many guests that come from different parts of the globe where their civil rights are still very fragile and they don’t have the same rights as a straight person might have.”

      But WinterPRIDE isn’t all in-your-face about it. Instead, it’s blended into the mix. For instance, this will be the second year for the mayor’s official Pride Week proclamation and the Pride march. What’s more, a Whistler Debates session will discuss whether Pride is still relevant and if it’s becoming too commercial.

      WinterPRIDE also teams up with community organizations like Vancouver Frontrunners, Health Initiative for Men, and Out in Schools to get them to present or get involved in various events. For example, Vancouver-based Rainbow Refugee Canada will be educating Mr. Gay Canada delegates about Canada’s role in helping refugees. Nelson says Rainbow Refugee Canada will also be at après-ski event coat checks “to let people know that Canada is very fortunate to have that refugee program where if you’re coming from a place of conflict, you do have an ability to leave that
      hostile environment.”

      Another socially conscious organization, the Vancouver Dyke March, is a prominent, new community partner. The group will be involved with women-specific events, including hosting the erotic dance show Purrlesque and the Women of WinterPRIDE dance party.

      Dyke March treasurer Michelle Fortin says by phone that they’re excited about the opportunity for numerous reasons, including visibility, the financial sustainability of their organization, and connecting with women in a new way.

      “The Dyke March is part of Pride Weekend [in August] and it is very much a family-friendly, open-air event that’s completely free to everybody and anybody,” she says. “And this [WinterPRIDE] was an opportunity to kind of do things that’s quite adult-oriented and engage with people in an active way.”

      Fortin thinks WinterPRIDE, which is hoping to increase its female attendance (Nelson says it’s usually around 10 to 20 percent), is making all the right moves in its women-friendly approach.

      “I think [they were] being very intentional in developing the partnership, being inclusive and collaborative as opposed to just cooperative,” she says. “It was ‘Hey, do you guys want to work with us? What venues do you think would be good? How can we make it better?’ ”

      But even if there’s a small turnout, Fortin says their strategy is to use smaller venues to maximize the impact for attendees. Intimate is Fortin’s operative word. For example, Fortin says, “the speed-dating is going to be more about engaging everybody” by creating cozy conversation areas with a laid-back vibe.

      Their WinterPRIDE events will also kick off the Dyke March’s 10th anniversary celebrations, which will include one event each month—ranging from a Dykes and their Dogs walk to a possible queer literature event—leading up to the march in August.

      Even though the Dyke March celebrates female independence, Fortin is pleased to see WinterPRIDE uniting various LGBT communities.

      “Ultimately that makes the queer community stronger when we’re partying together and when we celebrate together.”