3 min

Fending off for-profits

National group formed to enforce Pride trademark

Credit: (RJ Martin)

The Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) posted a notice on its website last month that’s left some people wondering if the idea of “Pride” has become more about cash than a grassroots community movement.

The notice reads: “The word Pride(r) is a registered trademark held by Fiérte Canada Pride of which the Vancouver Pride Society is a member and licensed user. The VPS may, at our discretion, permit the use of the word Pride(r) in all its forms associated with advertising and promotions within the district and surrounding promotional areas of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.”

“We’ve had a lot of feedback through e-mails over the last couple of weeks in which people are disgusted by the fact that they think the VPS is trying to own the word ‘Pride,'” says VPS president John Boychuk. “What they don’t understand is it’s not Vancouver that owns the word. It’s a national Pride board that’s trying to ensure that people keep control of the word ‘Pride’ and that corporations don’t turn around and say that they own it.”

That’s not quite accurate. The Canadian Trademarks Database of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office states that in 2000, Pride Toronto registered the trademark on the word “Pride” in the context of, “staging of an annual celebration and informational, educational and cultural festival by and for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and transgendered people of their sexual and gender orientations and identities, and their histories, cultures, communities, organizations, relationships, achievements and lives.”

A 2003 update of that application lists the wares associated with the trademark, including everything from bikinis to baseball caps, travel mugs to beach towels.

An e-mail from Pride Toronto to Xtra states: “Pride Toronto licenses the trademark to Pride festivals in Canada for a nominal fee of $1 since the sole purpose of holding the trademark is to ensure for-profit corporations are prohibited from exploiting the LGBTTIQ2S [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning, 2-Spirited] communities by selling their services and wares with the impression they are philanthropic endeavours.”

The e-mail did not answer Xtra’s question about the relationship between Pride Toronto and groups like Scarborough Pride or the Pride Toronto West festival.

In an interview with Xtra West, Pride Toronto cochair David Anderson says the reason Pride Toronto reserved the trademark was because private groups — like some large circuit-party promoters and corporations — were presenting themselves as Pride events, making profits, confusing potential Pride sponsors and not putting much back into the community.

“How do you have a level of control of Pride that allows community groups who want to celebrate the queer community to have access while those that might use it for purposes that might go against the community do not?” asks Anderson.

“The main situation would be where someone was trying to set up a parallel festival just blatantly using the name counter to what’s already going on or if a large for-profit group was trying during a Pride festival at the same time and within the same geography, trying to market their wares using that term without any consultation with the organizers,” says Anderson. “Those would be situations that would raise flags for community leaders.”

Anderson says although Pride Toronto doesn’t have a national mandate, it took the initiative on the trademark issue six years ago because the celebration was the largest and the most commercialized, so had the resources and saw the need to secure the trademark.

“We very much wanted to protect that regional use of Pride,” he says. “We talked with other Prides about this early on to that very purpose. We work alongside Prides across the country to make sure they have use of the term as they wish.”

Pride Toronto has not yet officially passed the trademark to Fiérte Canada Pride. Anderson says that’s because there’s a case before the courts, but didn’t disclose the details.

In the meantime, community Pride societies across the country can buy licences from Fiérte Canada Pride for as little as $1. Pride groups have the option to contribute more if they wish, but Anderson says the money raised is not being used to bankroll Pride Toronto or its court battle.

Back in Vancouver, Boychuk says the VPS has not felt the need to try to enforce its right to the Pride trademark in the past. He says, for example, bars and clubs will continue to be free to expand their patios and hold special promotions during Pride.

“We’re talking about individuals who all of a sudden decide they want to do something to make a few bucks,” says Boychuk. “They know the tourists are coming to town, that the gay community is looking for something to spend money on and they say, ‘I’m going to be gay for a day and I’m going to take the money and run.'”