What began as a celebration of Pride on the Drive ended in violence Jun 28 as an altercation at Eastside Pride led to one man allegedly being assaulted, four others being arrested and community members frustrated over alleged acts of intolerance and hate.
Peter Haywood, 27, says he was sitting with friends on the grass at Grandview Park enjoying the last moments of the fourth annual Eastside Pride festival when he noticed something wasn’t right.
Haywood says he saw a man allegedly deface the symbol of his identity. “He took down the Pride sign and started stomping on it,” Haywood alleges.
Haywood, an east Vancouver resident, told Xtra West that the man was a part of a group of three men and one woman. While it is unknown if the group belongs to an official anti-Semitic organization, Haywood referred to them as “Nazi skinheads,” claiming they were adorned with tattoos depicting Nazi swastika symbols.
Haywood says he and a female friend approached the man and a verbal altercation ensued.
“You guys are disgusting and scum,” Haywood alleges the man told him.
That’s when Haywood admits his friend knocked the man’s glasses off his face and things escalated.
According to Haywood, the man allegedly attacked his friend and then turned on him.
Haywood alleges he was punched in the face. He also claims his alleged assailant made remarks about not wanting Haywood’s blood on him.
The altercation started at the corner of Grandview Park and ended outside Stella’s bar on Commercial Dr.
VPS president John Boychuk says he was in the midst of wrapping up the festival when he was informed of the altercation. He did not witness the alleged assault.
Const Tim Fanning, media coordinator for the Vancouver Police Department, says he was off-duty at the time, but police reports confirm that an incident involving two groups occurred after 5 pm on Jun 28.
Fanning says four suspects (three male and one female, all in their early 20s) were arrested at the Britannia Centre parking lot in connection with an alleged assault on a woman and a 27-year-old man.
Fanning says the suspects were later released due to lack of information regarding the assault.
Haywood says his friend left the scene before talking to police and admits he has not yet provided a written statement, either.
The police report says the victim was too distraught to talk with officers at the time, Fanning confirms.
Fanning says one of the men arrested in connection with the altercation is known to police.
No charges have been laid at this time, though Fanning says the VPD takes all potential hate crimes very seriously and an officer assigned to the hate crime unit will be investigating the incident further.
Haywood, who suffered minor cuts and bruises to his face, says the incident won’t stop him from attending Pride festivals in the future. But he says it does show him that oppression of the gay community is still very much alive and well. “I feel like I have to be more aware and always be cautious that these people are around.”
Still, he says that’s no reason not to hold Pride celebrations. “Pride happened because people stood up and said we’ve had enough,” he points out.
Boychuk agrees. “We need more people to support us,” he adds. “Strength in numbers is what changes the hearts and minds of those that don’t accept.”
Though the festival may have ended on a bad note, the majority of the day was a success.
“It’s a gay Lillith Fair!” Vivian Von Brokenhymen, who hosted the event, exclaimed several hours before the altercation.
“It’s a wonderful kick-off for Pride events,” she said. “It’s all about having fun. It’s all about being gay everywhere.”
Eastside Pride is more grassroots than other Pride events in the city, says Lee Casey, festivals director for the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS). “It’s more about the foundation of the community.”
Having an inclusive Pride event on Commercial Dr is important, he continues. “Not everyone can afford to live in the West End. To have it in the Eastside says Pride is for everyone in Vancouver.”
“Eastside Pride is my favourite,” says Monika Whitney, head of volunteers for the VPS. “As a lesbian, I feel identity with this space.”
Whitney says she would like to see more area businesses get involved in Eastside Pride.
Lu Ripley, her partner Elaine and their nine-month-old son accidentally stumbled upon Eastside Pride – to their delight. “It’s mellow and community-oriented,” says Ripley.
Members of the queer community weren’t the only one’s delighted with the festival. Xtra West found Eastside resident, Mary Razor, sitting on the Grandview Park grass, enjoying the music. “I have gay friends,” she says. The First Nations woman, who says four of her nephews are gay, admits her family was never tolerant of their sexuality. But, says Razor, “they are also human.”
“In my hometown it’s awkward for gay people,” admits Amelda, who is originally from Indonesia, but now calls East Vancouver home. “But for me, it’s fine.”
Amelda and her boyfriend
Roy were also sitting on the grass, steps away from Mary, enjoying the entertainment. “They should have this every week,” says Roy.
“It brings people here, you can enjoy the music.”
Mary Brookes, owner of Sophie’s Pet Palace on Commercial Dr, recalls East Van’s earliest Pride festivals that took place in the early 1990s. Back then, Grandview Park played host to Eastside Pride’s precursor, the Stonewall Festival, which Brookes helped launch.
“We saw the energy beginning to generate and we wanted a way to contain it,” she says.
Dana Miller, the openly lesbian Liberal candidate for Delta-Richmond East, also enjoyed the day. “There’s a spirit here of being in good company,” she says. “You get to be 100 percent of who you are without the restriction of the parts of society that aren’t accepting.”
Boychuk says Eastside Pride is an opportunity to educate people about the gay community, especially in light of this year’s altercation. “It’s instances like this that reminds us why Vancouver celebrates Pride each year,” he says.