Pride in New Westminster is alive and well

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      Pride in New Westminster is alive and well and has been for many years.

      B.C.’s oldest city has a vibrant gay community, one that showcases a number of weekly queer meet-ups and pub nights, is home to Canada’s only seniors’ gay-straight alliance, and houses Steam 1, the only gay bathhouse in the Lower Mainland outside of Vancouver.

      From August 8 to 15, the city will host its sixth annual Pride Week, and New West Pride Society president Jeremy Perry says this year’s celebration will be its biggest to date.

      “We’ve shut down the street for the festival, and we’ve increased the number of events that we have throughout the week,” Perry said during an interview at a New West juice spot.

      Perry, who’s volunteered with the society for four years, has nothing but positive things to say about New Westminster’s LGBT community and supporters.

      “There’s so much that New West offers to the queer community in the Lower Mainland, and many people don’t realize that,” he said. “Something that we strive to do is highlight what the community offers, so that people know that there are things to do at home and that they can get to know their neighbours.”

      Drag shows, karaoke nights, and LGBT–friendly church services are just a few of the recurring events that are taking place during Pride Week.

      New West Pride’s street party is the final celebration of the week. It will fill Columbia Street—which was adorned with its very own permanent rainbow-coloured crosswalk on July 27—with booths, food trucks, beer gardens, musical performances, and a children’s area, among other attractions. This year’s musical acts will include local favourites Bif Naked, Los Furios, and I Am Mandrake.

      “People of all ages and backgrounds come out to the street party, and it really feels like a community festival. We get young families to seniors to teenagers all celebrating together to really show how great New West is and how accepting we are of diversity,” Perry said.

      For the second year in a row, Health Initiative for Men is sponsoring the street party’s Begbie Stage. The organization, which offers sexual-, social-, physical-, and mental-health services to gay men, opened its first location outside Vancouver in New Westminster in 2014.

      According to Perry, HIM is largely responsible for the street party’s move to Columbia Street. (Until 2013, Pride Week’s wrap-up party was held in Tipperary Park.)

      “It really did provide us with an opportunity to grow,” he said. “It’s great to work with them; they’re really great community partners.”

      Meanwhile, after being in operation in New West for nearly a year, HIM’s centre there is receiving positive feedback.

      “The response has been phenomenal. It’s turned out that the need for specialized gay men’s health services in New West has been overwhelming,” HIM’s executive director, Greg Oudman, said during an interview at his Davie Street office. “What HIM does really well is provide a safe space for gay men to feel comfortable to come and get tested. We’re looking at introducing recreational and counselling opportunities [in New West] as well, so it’s really just another chance for gay men to gather and increase visibility in the community,” he said.

      With its wide array of LGBT–oriented gathering places and events, it’s clear that New Westminster will continue to be home to one of the Lower Mainland’s most lively and dynamic queer communities.