In his eye-catching orange hat, Hugo A Go-Go sits in front of the huge rainbow flag flying high up in the trees of Grandview park on Commercial Dr. He remembers how much it meant to him to connect for the first time with the gay community at a Pride event years ago.
“When I first came out it was nice to see that there are other gays and lesbians out there, other than myself.”
A Go-Go is one of 1,500-2,000 people who came out to enjoy the afternoon sun, listen to live performances and stroll by the many information booths at East Side Pride, which officially kicked off the Pride season in Vancouver on June 26.
It’s about visibility, fostering community and raising awareness of gay rights, says Ken Coolen, president of the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS).
“First and foremost, Pride is about visibility: the visibility of our community and how strong and vibrant it is,” he says. “The other aspect of that is that it just creates that awareness that our community is here.
“We are still moving forwards and try to make differences in the lives of our own community and the global gay community,” he adds.
To commemorate some of the steps forward, the VPS put up a tent-sized installation of newspaper panels showing the 30 most memorable battles and victories of Vancouver’s gay movement.
Andrea Szewchuk stands in front of the newspaper clippings recounting the history of Vancouver’s dyke marches. For her, East Side Pride creates an opportunity to network and build communities.
“It allows people to get together and relate over things aside from just sexuality. To see people who are activists, and just people who are community organizers, is really important and strengthens the community.”
For openly lesbian city councillor Ellen Woodsworth, East Side Pride is deeply connected to the festival’s roots — New York’s 1969 Stonewall riots — and their call for equality and LGBT rights.
While Woodsworth says huge progress has been made in terms of gay rights legislation, homophobic assaults like the gaybashing on June 12 and the recent discrimination against lesbian school teacher Lisa Reimer, leave her concerned about the safety of Vancouver’s queer community.
“I think that is why there is a need of public expressions of gay Pride, or gay Pride marches or fairs like what we see here. It is a celebration and an acknowledgment that people need to feel safe in public,” she says. “If they feel safe in public that’s when we can feel safe to apply for jobs or safe when we go looking for a home.”
Concerns aside, East Side Pride is first and foremost a celebration of presence. Co-host Conni Smudge believes the event’s festive atmosphere is irresistible enough to overcome homophobia and stereotypes.
“I love the idea of people coming down to Commercial Dr, not expecting this, and they have just been blown away by the warmth and hospitality we are showing them.”