Under a mostly sunny sky, 143 entries paraded down the Vancouver Pride route Aug 2, with a few hiccups along the way — most noticeably a three-block gap that opened up between two floats and left some onlookers thinking the event had ended when it was only partly done.
Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) president Tim Richards insists that’s just part of the process.
“Welcome to parades,” he says, with a laugh. “I don’t know the specifics but it’s not unusual for any parades to have a gap.”
Richards, who is completing his fourth and final year as VPS president, says he is pleased with the day’s events. He is also pleased with the society’s decision to require all parade entries to this year pledge support for transgender equality.
The mandatory pledge, which is the first of its kind among Pride societies in Canada, pushes for provincial and federal laws to be changed to explicitly protect trans people from discrimination and to ensure their equality before the law.
“Every season there’s the opportunity to raise awareness around different issues,” Richards says.
“We are not a partisan organization,” he stresses. “This is about human rights. This was an opportunity to raise visibility to part of our community in [terms of] rights.”
Vancouver city councillor Andrea Reimer, who is also the parent of Roan Reimer, a young trans activist and one of this year’s grand marshals, describes the pledge as a bold and courageous move on the part of the VPS.
“If it’s only trans people and their immediate families pushing for trans rights, I don’t know if we’re going to get there,” she says.
“Being the parent of a trans child — one of the grand marshals! — it’s hard to think through it without it being too personal. There’s no question we need to advance the issue of human rights for trans people, so it’s really amazing to see this big group of allies coming out and support that this year.”
The pledge sparked controversy and debate within Vancouver’s LGBT community and at least one resignation from the Pride Society board, particularly after some political parties refused to sign it and were denied a spot in the parade as a result.
For the first time in 15 years, the BC Liberals did not have a float in the parade because party executives refused to sign the pledge, saying the BC Human Rights Code sufficiently protects trans and gender-variant British Columbians, and therefore requires no amendment.
The BC Liberals were still able to host a booth at the post-parade festival site at Sunset Beach, where it served rainbow-coloured lemonade.
“We just wanted people to understand: we’re not going to change the law so we can be in a parade. That’s not how it’s done,” says former Liberal MLA Lorne Mayencourt.
Premier Christy Clark and other Liberals MLAs did not attend the Pride festival.
Clark was not the only absent political figure. Though federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau kept his promise to walk in the parade, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair dropped out when Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially launched this fall’s election campaign just a few hours before the parade.
“He was definitely going to be here, front and centre,” Constance Barnes, the NDP candidate for Vancouver-Centre, says of Mulcair. “We wanted to make sure he was on Parliament Hill to be able to speak to Canadians as to what our plan is.”
The Conservative Party did not have a float in the parade this year, either. In July, Daily Xtra received a tip that the party had sought an exemption so it could march without signing the pledge, but attempts to corroborate the allegation led to conflicting accounts. A Daily Xtra request to the VPS for the Conservatives’ signed pledge form has so far met with silence.
Vancouver’s Trans Alliance Society had extended an invitation to several politicians whose parties did not sign the pledge to walk with them, but rescinded the invitation to Conservative representatives when Harper dropped the writ to officially dissolve parliament — which also effectively killed the languishing trans rights bill.
“We knew the writ-dropping was coming but we told them if your party drops the writ during the day of the Pride parade in Vancouver, which is about trans Pride, then I’m sorry it would just be wrong for you to participate,” explains Morgane Oger of the Trans Alliance Society.
“We just thought it would be inappropriate for them to be our guests. The party that killed human rights law changes in Canada [should not] participate with us,” Oger says.
Oger welcomes the VPS’s mandatory trans pledge.
“The Trans Alliance Society is 100 percent behind what they’re doing,” she says. “We need to call to account the organizations that claim to be supportive of equal rights for transgender persons but who actually do active work to stop us from having equal rights.”
West End resident Patricia Hargeaves says she comes to the Pride parade every year and looks forward to watching the crowd grow larger. This year, she was also looking forward to seeing which politicians would show up.
“I think our government really needs to pay attention to the movement that is happening and respect everybody for who they are,” she says. “So I’m looking forward to seeing which politicians are in the parade today because we’ve been seeing stuff on the news the last few days about who supports it, who doesn’t. The fearless or the fearful.”
Michael Whetstine, a gay man from West Palm Beach, Florida, enjoyed his first experience of Vancouver Pride.
“It’s nice to come to a country where it’s much more accepted than it is in the States,” he says. “The energy here is very electric. It’s a beautiful city and it’s a beautiful way to see more than just gays come out for Pride.”
One of the first floats to kick off this year’s parade was the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network. The 30-foot flatbed trailer carried elders, dancers and Aboriginal health advocates decorated in traditional colours, and sported an eight-foot eagle nestled on a bed of cedar at the rear of the truck.
Harlan Pruden, a First Nations Cree two-spirit person who was dancing and marching in the parade for his first time, says the parade’s “Gender Superheroes” theme is actually a very old concept among his people.
“We had gender heroes that pre-date all of this,” he says. “For us in the two-spirit community, what we’re trying to do is reclaim and restore that what we had, what was taken from us through colonization. Pre-contact, our two-spirit people had full equality, full citizenship, and we [were] completely honoured and respected.”
Pruden says this year’s theme helps to increase the visibility of people whose gender identity is ignored or excluded.
“Gender heroes have always been here and we will always be here,” he says.