An obscene bluster picked up. The sky darkened. It was four o’clock, but it looked like nightfall. You could taste the humidity.
About forty people tucked into a crevice outside City Hall — skinny gays, drag queens, older lesbians, trans people.
David Pepper, the gay man who heads up the PR department of the Ottawa police, was shepherding Chief Vern White around. He was also making windmill motions with his hands — the international sign for, “Let’s get this event started.”
But the guest of honour hadn’t arrived. No, it wasn’t the newly crowned Queen of Pride, Dixie Landers. She was there already, stalking around in a white minidress with a peek-a-boo neckline.
She towered over Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi. Provincial cabinet minister Jim Watson watched patiently.
Another huge gust of wind, then a crack of thunder. The doors to City Hall burst open and Larry O’Brien greeted the crowd.
And a minute later, the rain began to pour down. It was fierce.
The Pride Committee, in a moment of pragmatism, had set up the speaker’s podium under one of the building’s overhangs.
The chair, trans activist Joanne Law, gave a speech that beneath the din of the thunder, the pounding rain, and City Hall’s hourly chime, was barely audible.
O’Brien read the city proclamation. We watched a City of Ottawa employee under a futile umbrella raise the rainbow flag. Pride Week had officially started.
This was the most dramatic Ottawa Pride in nearly half a decade. Three important things happened. First, good weather helped bolster the Dyke March and queer picnic. Although participants said the route left something to be desired, spirits were raised by an excellent lineup (Amy Campbell, Rae Spoon) at the Dyke March stage.
Secondly, on Saturday night, Pride’s Doug Saunders packed Heaven to the rafters for one of the best Pride-planned parties in recent memory. It was more modest an outing than Rainbow Parties of the past, but don’t tell that to the throngs of sweaty, shirtless party animals at the club.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the committee moved the post-Parade show from under the shadow of City Hall. In its new location at one end of the grass, there was room for queers of all kinds to lounge on the grass. People had a ball, stayed later than usual and, I bet, spent a little extra at the beer gardens.
On the whole, it was very refreshing.
Pride spent three years trying to find its feet after flirting with bankruptcy in 2006. Meanwhile, groups around them have been raising the bar.
Just look at what’s coming up this fall. Pink Triangle Youth are hosting a new event on Aug 30, called Queer Grooves and Dance Moves. In October, SAW Gallery is taking a big gamble with a major Radical Drag exhibit. And Inside Out will raise a second trial balloon for queer film in Ottawa at the end of October.
Meanwhile, the AIDS Committee of Ottawa has been hosting slammin “HIV discrimination is bullshit” parties at Babylon and they cranked it up a notch last year with Snowblower, which can boast two successful month-long runs.
Pride should take note — it’s got 12 months to ratchet up next year’s festivities. And to that end, I’m really encouraged by the possibility that Saunders might be next year’s Pride chair.
We’ve got awhile to go before this city’s queer community is totally vibrant — and standing still is going backwards.
Over at Capital Xtra, we’re going to be trying out some new things this fall. We’re moving our annual Hero awards out of the autumn calendar altogether (and into February.) We’ve boosted the lineup at Transgress from four to six. And we’re launching two new events this fall.
Capital Xtra is helping the Village initiative with a street social on Bank. We’ll be taking over a portion of the street — something I hope the queer community will do more often this fall and next year. The goal is to raise both spirits and funds for rainbow flags on the street.
In September, look for a new reading and lecture series called the Naughty Thoughts Book Club. It’s likely to start off quite small, but we’re hoping to build momentum over the next 12 months.
What are you doing this fall?