3 min

Conspicuously absent

Where was our culture in the Pride parade?

Christy Clark and the BC  Liberals.

Little Sister’s Bookstore.

The Prime Timers.

The Health Initiative for Men (HIM).

Vancouver Men in Leather.

The Fountainhead Pub.

The PumpJack Pub.

What do all these groups have in common? They’re just a sample of all those conspicuously absent from this year’s Pride parade.

Some of them have good excuses: the PumpJack donated money directly to the Pride Society; Little Sister’s was suddenly short-staffed; HIM chose to engage directly with its constituents at the post-parade festival and lacked the resources to march, too.

Others may have struggled with costly parade entry fees, or suffered from Pride fatigue, or simply prioritized other things. (Or didn’t want to risk alienating any precious voters in Christy Clark’s case, but her political manoeuvring is not even worth my time here.)

I am far more interested in us. In our absence from our own party.

It’s not like we were completely missing in action. Despite rumours to the contrary, the Dykes on Bikes still led the parade, the Knights of Malta still proudly bore the flags, drag queen Isolde N Barron was resplendent in a birdcage, and openly gay teachers, advocates, athletes, city councillors and singers all strutted their stuff.

But overall I found our expression of ourselves, of our gayness, of our distinct culture, to be muted this year.

“There wasn’t much of what makes us different in this parade,” agrees its co-chair Shawn Ewing, vice-president of the Pride Society. “Nobody edge-pushed this year.”

Logistically, the parade was a success, she notes.

And organizationally there’s no doubt the Pride Society has grown significantly in the last decade, from a deficit-ridden, overworked and out-of-touch society to a solidly run, financially stable institution that knows how to put on a good parade.

Now if only that parade could reclaim some of its earlier exuberance and flamboyance — and push some more edges.

One key problem is dwindling creativity, Ewing believes. She’d like the Pride Society to nurture partnerships between community artists and groups still eager to march in the parade but less than inspired to colourfully express their queerness.

This is the moment to foster new partnerships, she says. Now that the Pride Society has paid staff, board members have more time to reflect, to consult and to consider new directions.

We could host float-building or mask-making workshops, she suggests, like the Lantern Festival. Surely the city can supply some unused space in which to build and store materials for a few months.

I’m all for it. How much fun would it be to build stuff together? To inject new creativity and queer energy back into our community’s floats and marching units? To work together toward the common goal of sharing what queer looks like to each of us, preferably with a little glitter.

“It’s getting back to being a community,” Ewing says.

It’s getting back to making the parade a shared celebration of what makes us unique.

Maybe the parade needs to switch gears more significantly, she muses. Maybe it should run at night — like an Electric Drag Queen Parade.

“It doesn’t have to be what it was last Sunday,” she says. “It can be what the community wants it to be. But the community has to talk about it. And be willing to participate.”

“We have a great deal of history: the parade being protest, advocacy, celebration,” she continues. “The parade has had a lot of different faces. But what it should be — what it is — is the community’s parade.”

So how do we inspire an increasingly far-flung and assimilated community to pull together to celebrate the common threads of our culture? How do we reinstill both the will and the means to express ourselves creatively?

“Take away some rights?” Ewing laughs, only partially kidding.

That always works. But do we have to be under siege to march together?

I think Ewing’s workshops are an excellent start. Let’s give ourselves the opportunity and the tools to be creative, to express ourselves — just for the joy of it.

Let’s inspire each other to reflect on what queer means to us now, and to share our answers in the most colourful, outrageous ways we can come up with.

Then let’s see what parades down the street next Pride.