Arts & Entertainment
4 min

Bridging sister cities

Cruisey T brings a Vancouver tradition to Seattle

WEST COAST CONNECTION. 'We are like sister cities,' says Eric Albert-Gauthier (left), president of Seattle Out and Proud, with treasurer Adam McRoberts. '[The cruise brings people together.' Credit: Nathaniel Christopher photo

Pride week in Seattle was just a bit wetter this year on account of two enterprising Vancouverites who brought a Vancouver tradition to Seattle’s harbour.

Since 1991, James Steck and Randy Newberg have organized gay cruises in and around Vancouver harbour to benefit charities within the queer community. Their website bills Cruisey T as “Canada’s largest t-dance on the Pacific,” featuring two dance floors, DJs, bar service and entertainment. What initially began as a Pride cruise has evolved into a regular event throughout the summer.

“Over the last 16 years we have raised $600,000 for the community,” says Steck, who believes the idea of a queer dance at sea is a natural fit for the gay community. “I was born and raised in and have always loved being on water. It seems natural to me.”

It was always his vision to bring the event to other cities and he saw Seattle as the perfect candidate — particularly this year.

“Cruisey T’s mandate is to raise money for the community,” he explains. “Seattle Pride was in a bit of a financial crunch so we thought it’d be a perfect match.”

Steck is referring to the US$100,000 debt that Seattle Out and Proud incurred last year when it moved the Pride parade off its traditional route through Capitol Hill and brought it downtown.

Several people aboard Cruisey T’s inaugural jaunt around Seattle’s harbour stressed the many similarities between Vancouver and Seattle. Though they were generally too polite to mention Vancouver Pride’s $100,000-plus debt of a few years ago, they pointed to such things as our geographic proximity, our laid-back lifestyles, and the widespread visibility of queer people in both our cities.

“You have the West End, we have Capitol Hill,” says Adam McRoberts, treasurer of Seattle out and Proud. “Seattle is so diverse, gay people are everywhere. As a gay person in Seattle you are welcome everywhere. There are gay clubs on Capitol Hill and mixed clubs everywhere.”

Eric Albert-Gauthier, president of Seattle Out and Proud, agrees. “We talk about Vancouver all the time,” he says. “It’s friendly, we’re accepted and we are like sister cities. [The cruise] brings people together. We’re coming together to spend Pride and show off our true colours. It’s great that we’re bridging our sister cities together.”

However, not all went according to plan. Steck was a little disappointed with the turnout, which was only at about 50 percent capacity, or around 250 people.

“Everything has worked well for us except not getting the word out in Seattle,” he laments.

“The first cruise in Vancouver wasn’t a sellout either,” he points out. “We think this first cruise will get the word out for next year. In Vancouver the reason we sell out is because of previous years.”

About half of the attendees were Vancouverites, many of whom told their friends in Seattle to come along for the sailing. One such attendee is Rafael, a tawny Vancouver construction worker who declined to give Xtra West his last name.

“Vancouver has the best gay cruises and it’s time Seattle can have it. Vancouver people are used to this being fun but Seattle is not used to it because it is new. It’s the best thing, but not a lot of people know about it yet.”

He speculates that the low turnout could be due to weather. “In Vancouver we do Pride in August and weather is always great then, but at this time you never know.”

Rafael told his friend Steve Seto about the cruise, who in turn brought many of his own friends who were attracted by Vancouver’s reputation as a gay-friendly city.

“Thank God for Vancouver for bringing this down here,” he says. “Seattle is not as fabulous. Our gay scene is more subdued.”

The cruise was anything but subdued as about 250 people danced, smoked, drank and rocked the Spirit of Seattle to the eclectic musical selections of Vancouver’s DJ Zach Shore and Seattle’s DJ Bret T.

It’s essentially a gay bar on water, according to Steck.

“You can have the bar scene or you can have the ocean and see the beautiful Pacific Northwest Coast, says,” he says. “I see guys come on these cruises with one partner and leave with another.”

Although the cruise was mostly attended by men, there was a small contingent of queer women.

Celeste and her friend Arleigh came from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. “We saw it online and are going to Girl 4 Girl afterwards,” says Celeste, as she attempts to gauge her level of drunkenness on the slightly swaying ship’s deck.

“We always keep asking ourselves how many beers are we away from the Space Needle,” she laughs. In this instance it was about five.

“I’ve been on a lesbian cruise and it was fun,” says Suzette, who brought her partner Paula along for the ride. “I’ll probably come back next year and encourage more women to come. They are people-friendly here, and drinks are not watered down. The show was also great.”

What would a Cruisey T export be without a performance by Vancouver drag diva Joan-E? For this sailing, Joan-E was joined by special guests including Rosita and DeDe Drew.

Much of the audience sat cross-legged on the carpet in a circle around the room, creating an atmosphere vaguely reminiscent of a kindergarten show-and-tell session. Others stood against the wall or the bar, their eyes on Joan-E as she pounded back a beer in one large gulp, much to the amusement of her audience, many of whom were watching her for the first time.

Steck would like to make his cruise a recurring event for Seattle and, in future years, hopes to bring it to other West Coast cities too.

“Nobody is doing this in places like San Francisco, Los Angeles or San Diego,” he says. “I’m going to go down there in October to see if we can do it there. Hopefully we’ll get it off the ground in 2009, after we’ve done one more year in Seattle.”