There are few things I willingly crawl out of bed at 6 am to witness. Drag queens being honoured in the BC legislature is one of them.
The day started out ominously; a storm cancelled the 7 am ferry to Victoria and I wondered if I’d get across in time.
By the time I arrived, the sun was shining and the queens and their consorts were laughing and chatting with their host, MLA Spencer Herbert, as a security guard looked on benignly.
How many times has this building welcomed queens in full drag, I wondered, as I admired Ms Gay Vancouver’s purple taffeta gown.
“Vaseline on the lens— it makes us look way more attractive,” Empress Elektra Quecha cheerfully calls out as our videographer captures the historic moment.
The empress has gone with simple sequins for the occasion. As she sweeps into the House in her long, burgundy gown, a wrap draped delicately over her shoulders, I know I’m in the presence of royalty about to be recognized.
“I think it’s time we start recognizing and reflecting the diversity of our province in what can often be stuffy chambers,” Herbert says. “It is the people’s House after all.”
Herbert is rapidly shaping up to be an impressive MLA. A vocal advocate for tenants’ rights, free speech and the arts, he’s present in his constituency, unabashedly gay and willing to go out on a limb to explicitly inject some gay presence into government.
A far cry from his predecessor in Vancouver-Burrard.
“It’ll be the first time any of our gay ambassadors get recognized by their House, by the people who represent BC,” Herbert says. “It’s more important than ever to push the boundaries and show gay faces in this place.”
This is just a small step, he notes. “I don’t think it’s anything revolutionary.”
But you can’t represent people if you’ve never met them, he says. “I think this House needs to be reminded of that sometimes.”
Mar 2’s reminder began shortly after 1:30 pm. As the MLAs rose to greet various visitors in the gallery, the queens and their consorts waited patiently, their coats and gowns contrasting with the less formal wear around them.
Finally it was Herbert’s turn.
“I’d like to introduce to the House Mr and Ms Gay Vancouver XXIX,” he said to polite applause. “We are also joined by the Emperor and Empress V of Surrey. All the individuals I’ve had the pleasure of introducing are integral to their community… I would ask the House to make them welcome and thank them for their service to their communities on behalf of BC.”
As Herbert spoke, I watched the Liberal MLAs. They all clapped in the right places, but Education Minister Shirley Bond looked stern as she dutifully welcomed the gay people in the gallery.
Our province’s head of education—the woman responsible for making our classrooms nurturing places that celebrate diversity and raise kids open to all sorts of healthy explorations; the woman who rarely returns our community’s calls— gave no hint of a smile when it was our turn for a little recognition.
It wasn’t the only sour note that day.
Though the queens were welcomed in full drag, they weren’t allowed to wear their crowns or sashes into the gallery.
“It’s about the dignity and the protocols that are required within the House,” Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz explains. Apparently only the (British) Queen can wear a headdress, unless it’s for religious reasons like a turban.
Standards are necessary “to maintain the dignity and integrity” of the House, Lenz says.
“Double standards?” I ask, referring to some students who wore their tiaras into the gallery without hassle five days before the queens swept in. They even posed for a photo afterwards with the Liberals— who, ironically, were sporting pink for Anti-Bullying Day since “no one should ever be made to feel intimidated, afraid or discriminated against,” according to Premier Gordon Campbell.
“That was an error on our part,” Lenz says of the tiara slippage. “I’m just trying to keep it fair across the board. It’s not a slight to anybody.”
Prissy protocols and potential double standards aside, the day was a success overall.
“This is actually a very emotional thing,” says Ms Gay Vancouver. “In some countries we would have been taken out back. It’s an honour to have been recognized.”