The meeting was a landmark. A high point in a history of apathy. Seventy-five people showed up. Seventy-five! That’s got to be a record in our community.
They came to protest the Pride Society’s seemingly sudden decision to re-route our Pride Parade out of the West End.
“The West End represents everything that is gay in Vancouver,” Spike Gaddy told the meeting, urging the Pride Society to reconsider.
The parade’s roots are in the West End, others added. It has history here. We have history here. Our institutions are here, our spaces, our meeting places, our hangouts. Our loved ones are here, both living and dead. Our strength is here.
The Pride Parade belongs in the West End, speaker after speaker repeated.
Even gays and lesbians who have outgrown the West End and moved to other neighbourhoods still want to come home for Pride. As one man said, “They want to come to the old neighbourhood, the old haunts, the trees that we had sex behind. They’re all important to us.”
I couldn’t agree more. (Okay, I admit I have yet to have sex behind a tree, but when I do it will be in the West End!)
Because the West End is the heart of our city’s gay community, it’s our anchor. And any parade designed to loudly and proudly proclaim our presence should at least march through it.
The meeting’s outpouring of passion lasted several hours. The next morning, to my great relief, the Pride Society scrapped its Plaza of Nations plan.
The community had spoken, the Pride Society had listened.
And I don’t regret the exercise for a minute.
What began in anger ultimately turned into a valuable exercise in community building, however inadvertently.
Years from now, I hope the meeting will be remembered as one of those turning points in our community’s development-the moment we woke up and took an active part in our own Pride.
Or will it be remembered as a shining moment of potential, quickly faded into oblivion?
“I think it’s been a great exercise,” Steven Schelling optimistically told the meeting that night. “As board members, we’ve been labouring under the assumption that no one cared. It’s great to see so many people in this room who are actually interested and do care.
“I just hope you can keep it up.”
So do I.
Because he’s right, you know. Most of us let a handful of volunteers do all the incredibly time-consuming work of planning and executing all our Pride celebrations every year. We just go to the parties.
Then we mutter amongst ourselves when they don’t turn out the way we wanted.
On Mar 29, that muttering finally exploded into a vocal and passionate public debate.
Granted, the Pride Society initially dug in its heels and defended its Plaza of Nations plan. But first responses aren’t everything. And to its credit, it pretty quickly shifted gears and listened to the people it was supposed to be serving.
We meant no disrespect to anyone, board member Fraser Doke told the meeting. “But no one bellied up to the bar to give us direction.”
I believe him.
Of course, many say the Pride Society didn’t give them a chance to offer any direction.
They say the Pride Society could have made a bigger effort to get the community’s attention before simply announcing such a fundamental change in plans. They say it could have held more meetings and done a much better job advertising them.
True enough. But let me ask you something: if the Pride Society had plastered the city with posters and given us all ample opportunity to participate, would you have?
Probably not, if years of low attendance numbers are any indication.
It’s no wonder the Pride Society lost track of its mandate to manage our Pride celebration and struck out instead on its own.
The question is, where do we go from here?
The Pride Society is listening. The community is not only listening but participating.
We have a rare opportunity to work together. To honour and preserve the best of Pride’s traditions, even as we let it evolve.
Because it is evolving. It has to. We all do. It’s just a matter of how.