3 min

Community, and a queenly wave

David Holtzman and Bill Monroe named Pride grand marshals

Bill Monroe has been performing for 60 years. Credit: Robin Perelle

If Bill Monroe plans to reprise his long-standing, well-travelled turn as Queen Elizabeth for Vancouver Pride, he and HRH are keeping it close to their chests.

“I think we should leave that as a surprise,” Monroe says. But he did offer the not-so-subtle teaser that it is, after all, the Queen’s 60th year on the throne, which, coincidence of coincidences, dovetails with his own 60th anniversary as a performer.

Read what you will into that.

“I was quite surprised; it was a lovely acknowledgment,” he says of his selection as a Pride grand marshal, along with Miss Universe Canada contestant Jenna Talackova and the late community leader and activist David Holtzman.

“A lot of people, because I had been in the community for so long, thought I’d been grand marshal before,” Monroe, now 78, says. “When you’ve been around the community for 32 years, they have a tendency to think you’ve done everything.”

Monroe’s fundraising resumé is legend.

He says the establishment of People with AIDS by his roommate, Kevin Brown, was a significant springboard. Monroe co-created Starry Night, which he performed in and emceed for the first 16 years, to raise funds for the foundation.

He has also been a great friend to the gay sports community.

“I was doing fundraisers for the Gay Games from 1982 through till 2002 — all different sports.

“At the first Gay Games, in San Francisco, I did the Queen with the Vancouver Men’s Chorus. They made me their first lifetime member [after that],” he says.

Monroe was also the first Canadian to receive the Fellowship Award from the International Gay Bowling Organization, one of the largest gay sports groups in the world.

Monroe says he has emceed too many Pride Day shows to count. “I had been in the parade practically every year since about 1986 — or somewhere in there.”

He sees Pride as a “knitting together of the community.”

He says he’s never had a hard time with the Vancouver audience. Except that one time.

“People are sometimes very vocal in their political things, you know, so I said to the crowd, ‘We got people here from all the different parties who’re going to say Happy Pride, so be polite. They’re guests; be nice to them.’

“I didn’t want anyone booing different ones, and the audience howled and laughed. Then someone wrote a letter that said I reprimanded the crowd, because underneath the polyester was the iron fist.”

“I’ve never seen me in polyester,” he quips, then laughs.

“It was all donated time in those days, which wasn’t easy. It was very expensive for me, because I couldn’t wear the same thing twice,” he notes.

It’s been great fun, he adds. “I still sing and I’m still a blonde.”

Like Monroe, Holtzman leveraged his considerable talents to build community.

Holtzman worked as executive director of A Loving Spoonful from 1996 to 2001. He also directed Leadership Vancouver from 2001 to 2006 and, in the last 25 years, worked in Europe, Asia and around North America with the Department of External Affairs, Rick Hansen’s Man in Motion tour, World University Service of Canada and the Canadian Council on Learning. Most recently he served as Out on Screen’s director of operations and human resources.

Holtzman, who died suddenly of a heart attack while on vacation with his partner, Peter Regier, in April, was recently remembered at an emotional and festive memorial for his ability to bring people together.

“I was pleased and honoured and touched that they had selected him [as grand marshal],” a very moved Regier told Xtra July 20.

“Pride was important to David, so I know he would think it was a big honour. I will be there, with a few friends, definitely focusing on fun and playfulness,” Regier says.

“As a fixture on the floats of various organizations, he certainly wore his share of glitter and boas in Pride parades over the years,” Regier says. “David loved a party.”

For Holtzman, the Pride parade was also about “sharing the LGBTQ story with the larger community — the story of inclusion, love, joy and life,” he adds.

“For me, when I think of David — David Holtzman had no shame, and he also had an incredible love of life. Those two things together made him irresistible to me, and I think to many, many other people.

“He brought that to bear at every Pride parade,” Regier says.