As Katie King celebrated Eastside Pride in Grandview Park Jun 27 her mind was on Stonewall and the riots that galvanized New York’s gay liberation movement 40 years ago.
“I think we have to realize we’ve come a long way and people may feel safer about coming out and being gay, but it wasn’t always this way,” said King.
“I remember living in the east village in 1969. I came down there out of high school, right after Stonewall and it was amazing,” she recalled. “It was such a turn around, that a bunch of trannies could just say, ‘We’re not going to take this anymore. We’re going to fight back.’”
Ken Coolen, president of the Vancouver Pride Society that hosted Eastside Pride, also highlighted the importance of remembering the community’s battles and pioneers.
“You know, living in Vancouver Canada, we have rights as LGBT people that so few people around the world have and I think we’re getting just a little too complacent and relaxed in knowing that we can serve in the military, we can get married, we can adopt children,” he said. “There’s so many things that we kind of forget that were battles that have been overcome.”
There are still hurdles, Coolen noted, citing the violent altercation that took place during last year’s Eastside Pride when a group of neo-Nazis ripped down and stomped on a Pride sign then allegedly assaulted two people after being confronted.
“There are things that we still need to fight for,” Coolen said. “Sometimes it’s good for us. Not to be hurt or abused, but to be reminded that there are still battles.”
Recent and remembered battles aside, this year’s Eastside Pride was primarily a day of fun and celebration.
Ardell Brophy, who watched the improv performance alongside King, said she was happy to be in attendance. “I think the improv’s really good. But then, I’m married to one of the players!”
For many in attendance, Eastside Pride offers a certain local Drive flavour that the Pride parade, held in August in the West End, just can’t beat.
“It’s cool. I like the crowd. It’s much more my style than the usual Pride downtown,” said Nick Danford, an eastsider who biked to the event. “It’s a little bit more alternative, a little bit different.”
Vancouver East MP Libby Davies attends the festival almost every year and loves the unique vibe the neighbourhood has to offer. “The Eastside is a great place and there’s a great history of activism for social justice and human rights, and people kind of live and breathe it. They live and breathe the Eastside,” she said.
Davies believes it’s important for the gay community in Canada to recognize the issues faced by people in other parts of the world and take a stand. “I really feel that for us as Canadians, while we do enjoy certain rights, that it’s really important that we speak out and we be part of an international movement for queer rights.”
City councillor Ellen Woodsworth noted that even within Canada, the fight for gay rights is far from over. “It’s still very hard for people [to be gay] in rural areas, and we feel there’s a lot of violence against the queer community in the city,” she said.
“It’s very important that we have public events like this where we can be out and safe and really talk to people about what’s going on and celebrate.”
The festival was also appreciated by parents who saw it as a child-friendly event.
“It’s quite nice to come and have fun with my son and play in the park,” said Jill Beamish, watching her four year-old, Sam, playing behind a giant rainbow flag beside her. “It’s great. I want my kid to grow up seeing all different kinds of families.”
A bit of sassiness was added to the event by hosts Conni Smudge and Vivian Von Brokenhymen, professional drag queens who have known each other — personally and professionally — for over 40 years.
“I love a good Pride,” said Smudge. “There’s a lot of hot men on the Eastside.”
“Always remember and never forget: don’t oppress human rights in any way,” said Von Brokenhymen. “Human rights for everybody!”