Just prior to Pride Week, the City of Vancouver made its position on queer equality, both locally and internationally, abundantly clear with numerous examples of support.
Wading into international politics, Mayor Gregor Robertson issued a statement on July 26 condemning Russia's homophobic legislation and expressing concern about how these laws will affect the Sochi Winter Olympics. In the statement, he noted how at the last Winter Olympics here in Vancouver featured the first-ever Pride House, which supported queer athletes and addressed homophobia in sport.
When City manager Penny Ballem led a panel discussion at Vancouver City Hall on July 29 prior to the mayor's official Pride Week proclamation, she pointed out how Robertson's statement underscored the importance of the freedoms that Vancouverites enjoy.
"The recent actions of the Russian government to discriminate against the LGBTQ community is just a reminder for us in Canada and in this city, we take for granted a lot of the privilege and the opportunities and the freedom that we have, and the really overt and explicit support that we have from governments at all levels," she said. "It's with great pride that we saw our mayor take a stand and make a very clear statement about how unacceptable this was."
Councillor Tim Stevenson moderated the panel. Earlier that morning, Stevenson had officially unveiled Canada's first permanent rainbow crosswalks, located at Bute and Davie streets in the heart of the Davie Village near Qmunity, B.C.'s queer resource centre.
Panel members shared their personal stories, of coming out, dealing with discrimination, falling in love, and more. The discussion was focused on the theme of what makes Vancouver one of the world's most diverse and accepting cities for LGBT people.
Trevor Loke, Vancouver Parks Board vice-chair and commissioner and Park Board Liaison to the LGBTQ Advisory Committee. He also talked about how he learned about being trans and what barriers existed to people for access, and how they decided to come up with task force.
"We said, 'Let's be bold. We want Vancouver to be the most inclusive jurisdiction in the world to make sure that everybody has access to our public recreation.' "
On May 14, the Vancouver Park Board approved a motion to create the Trans and Gender Variant Working Group.
InterPride copresident Caryl Dolinko talked about how the past dreams for the future of the Vancouver Pride Society—including having a movie night, street party, and receiving civic status—eventually came true. She also talked about how there are seven countries where there is still a death penalty for being gay and 78 countries in which it is still illegal, and that she dreams that one day will disappear.
She noted that there is a Rainbow City Coalition in Europe; she challenges the city to create the first North American Rainbow City Coalition for LGBT rights, creates policies and initiatives, and creates safe spaces.
Other speakers included concert and event producer Pat Hogan, First Nations designer and engraver Corrine Hunt, operations planner and manager Dean Malone, YouthCO executive director Jesse Brown, Vancouver Dyke March president Michelle Fortin, and Gay Whistler CEO Dean Nelson.
An outdoor ceremony on City Hall's north lawn was hosted by drag queen extraordinaire Joan-E, and included a traditional First Nations blessing by Stewart Gonzales of the Squamish Nation.
While Mayor Gregor Robertson spoke about celebrating local LGBT communities, he also reminded audience members about those who are not so fortunate.
"Billions of people around the world still do not enjoy the same fundamental human rights and freedoms that we can't afford to take for granted here in Vancouver. So this week, we are celebrating how far we have come…reflecting how that we can continue this work here in our city, and our country, and pushing hard for that change to make our lives better across the world. So this is important that we stand up for those rights of our brothers and sisters around the world."
Robertson, who DJed at a Vision Vancouver Pride party on July 15, read out an official proclamation and the Pride flag was later raised.
Tensions arose when Vancouver Pride Society president Tim Richards and vice-president Chrissy Taylor took to the podium. A small contingent of Foreskin Pride members, led by Canadian Foreskin Awareness Project founder Glen Callender, holding placards and a Foreskin Pride banner, began chanting "Foreskin Pride! Let us march!"
The anti-circumcision awareness organization, which repeatedly interrupted the speeches with chants, had been rejected from the Vancouver Pride parade due to full-frontal nudity in the 2012 parade and a lack of space, according to Vancouver Pride Society general manager Ray Lam.
Taylor reminded the audience, which included organization leaders, politicians, and other public figures, that trans and gender-variant people do not have equality in Canada.
"Currently, Bill C-279 is waiting to be passed in the Senate," she said. "The bill would amend the Human Rights Act and Criminal Code to include gender identity and gender expression. Trans and genderqueer people face issues that we as Canadians need to express. Some of these issues include access to healthcare, affordable housing, and inclusive education."
She encouraged people to write to senators to encourage them to pass Bill C-279.
Vancouver Pride parade Grand Marshall Zdravko Cimbaljevic spoke about being the first publicly out gay person in Montenegro for the past two-and-a-half years. He explained that they held their first Pride parade only four days prior, but that they were attacked by people who threw rocks and bottles, and even received death threats. Cimbaljevic received encouraging applause from the audience and Joan-E called him the definition of courage.
Vancouver Pride Society president Tim Richards also gave words of encouragement to all.
"In this period of Pride Week, we ask you to be brave, be bold, be visible, a little bit of glitter and feather is always a good start. And most of all, we ask that you never stop dreaming of greater inclusion and equality for all because that will be the makings of a better tomorrow."
The Vancouver Pride parade (along with Vaisakhi and the Chinatown Spring Festival), which is celebrating its 35th anniversary, also received civic event status on May 29.
The Vancouver Pride parade will be held on Sunday (August 4).