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Battling for Pride

VPS tells community member she can't call it

WHO OWNS PRIDE?: 'I believe the word Pride is a word owned by all members of the GLBT community,' says Jamie Lee Hamilton. Credit: Christine McAvoy photo

Jamie Lee Hamilton is alarmed.

The transsexual activist says the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) is hassling her for using the word “Pride” on two events she’s got planned for this year’s celebrations.

The events in question–Man Pride and Tranny Pride–were scheduled to take place at Coxx Club on Aug 5 and 6, respectively.

But on Jul 8, VPS vice-president Aviva Lazar sent Hamilton an e-mail informing her that she must buy a membership in the Pride Society if she wants to use the now-trademarked word Pride.

“Please be advised that the word PRIDE(r) is a registered trademark held by Fierté Canada Pride in which the Vancouver Pride Society is a member and licensed user of this trademark,” Lazar wrote. “The VPS may, at our discretion, permit the use of the word PRIDE(r) and all its forms associated with advertising and promotions within the district and surrounding promotional areas of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.”

When contacted by Xtra West, Lazar referred all questions on the matter to VPS president John Boychuk.

Boychuk says he welcomes Hamilton’s challenge as an opportunity to take the public discussion on this issue to a new level. He says the move to trademark Pride was made to protect the word for the community’s use.

“At the end of the day, somebody is going to own the word Pride,” he says. “We would love the community to own it.

“If we lose this, it does become corporate,” he warns. “I’m looking after our own future. We must make sure it is not owned or abused.”

Last month, Boychuk explained to Xtra West that Pride societies across Canada initiated the trademarking move so gay-for-a-day profiteers couldn’t just use the word to make money off the community.

“We’re talking about individuals who all of a sudden decide they want to do something to make a few bucks,” Boychuk said. “They know the tourists are coming to town, that the gay community is looking for something to spend money on and they say, ‘I’m going to be gay for a day and I’m going to take the money and run.'”

If community groups want to run their own Pride events, the VPS simply asks that they buy a $20 corporate membership in the society, Boychuk added.

Hamilton says she shouldn’t have to buy a membership to use the word Pride.

“I believe the word Pride is a word owned by all members of the GLBT community,” she told Lazar in an e-mail reply.

“This is not what Pride is about,” Hamilton later told Xtra West. “It’s about celebrating our lives.

“What the Pride board is forgetting here is that Pride is symbolic of queer freedom. It was a way for us to get together, share and celebrate our love and honour our lives.”

Attempting to trademark that is “ridiculous,” she continues. “I don’t think you can trademark something like that.”

No one can own the word Pride, agrees long-time Pride Society member Jim Deva.

“I don’t give a shit what anyone says. It’s even more important than the Olympics. I own Pride. No one’s going to tell me that they own Pride. It’s part of my blood. It’s worth dying for.”

“I believe if people want to join Pride that is their right,” Hamilton later e-mailed Boychuk. “But someone should not be held hostage with a smoking gun held to their head, demanding essentially what boils down to ransom in return [for] using the community word Pride.”

Boychuk had this reply for Hamilton: “As part of Vancouver’s commitment to Fierté Canada Pride, to which we are a member, we are preparing over this next year by advising businesses, organizations and groups within the listening area that we encourage membership in our organization, for at the end of the day the Vancouver Pride Society will be a licensee of the word ‘Pride’ and its usage.”

The VPS is not “forcing the trademark issue,” he wrote. It’s simply “preparing the community for the inevitable.”

“Should you wish to have your membership dues waived for 2006 as a small business,” Boychuk continued, “the 2006 Pride board would require a written request listing the reasons why the $20 membership would either be a hardship or financial burden to your business.”

Having said that, he then told Hamilton that if she still decides to hold Man Pride without becoming a member she can do so–this year.

“I ask you to keep in mind that we are doing what we can to be pro-active,” Boychuk added, “to ensure that businesses and organizations do not take advantage of what you and others have created in this community in the past 28 years by ‘being gay for a day’ and not contributing something back that supports the long-term sustainability of organizations like the Vancouver Pride Society.”

Hamilton was not mollified.

“I’d hate to think that this is what we have evolved to as a community,” she wrote back to Boychuk. “If I follow the Pride board demands I’m transferring my freedoms and rights over to a small select group of people who want to stage-manage and control my Pride (my freedoms). I will not allow you to do this.

“If it’s a battle you want, it’s a battle I’m prepared to engage in,” she wrote.

Gary Penny, one of Vancouver Pride’s founders and a lifetime member of the society, agrees with Boychuk. Hamilton is “opening a can of worms,” says Penny, that could allow others to use the word Pride in ways that are detrimental to the VPS. “For somebody else to start using the Pride name is completely wrong,” he says. “I don’t know what Jamie Lee’s up to but she’s dead wrong. It isn’t much to affiliate with Pride and have it sanctioned.”

Besides, says Penny, what if a community member hosts a Pride event and it turns out to be a firetrap? Would the Pride Society be legally responsible if something went wrong there?

“It could be the destruction of Pride,” he predicts. “I think the board’s going to have to get control of her on this one. I think they’re going to have to contact a lawyer.”

If Hamilton goes ahead with her plans, the Pride board should make it clear it has no affiliation with her, Penny suggests.

Boychuk says if Hamilton is unhappy with the VPS’ trademark stance, she is welcome to attend an upcoming board meeting and have her concerns added to the agenda.