When tourists leaf through the program for this week’s Fierté Montréal – or Montreal Pride, en anglais – they might think it a standard set of celebrations for an urban queer Pride event. There are parties headlined by drag queens, a women’s movie night and, of course, a great big parade that will wind its way through much of downtown Montreal.
But this year’s event — the sixth annual Fierté Montréal – comes as part of a larger evolution of the city’s queer Pride history.
Fierté Montréal was seen by many as something of a rivalry with Montreal’s other large queer-pride event, Divers/Cité, which has morphed into more of a cultural festival in recent years. Founded in 1993, Divers/Cité was created in part to unite the city’s fractious communities and bring them together under one great big party.
But some raised questions when Divers/Cité stopped holding a parade. How, critics asked, could the event many thought of as the city’s gay pride event not hold a parade?
Thus, Fierté Montréal launched six years ago, hosting a parade and a number of other parties and events leading up to it. And while some felt this division of queer festivities made for divided, wasted energies, and was another indication members of our community can simply not get along, Fierté Montréal spokesperson Lynn Habel says things have changed for both organizations, and for the better. She argues that Fierté Montréal and Divers/Cité are now seen as entirely complementary events.
“There really isn’t a rivalry between the events at all,” Habel says. “We have a parade, and Divers/Cité is now much more of a cultural festival. We will be attending their events and hope they’ll come to ours. People used to think of this as a splitting of the pie. Not so much anymore. There’s another way to think of it: the pie just got bigger. We now have two major gay summer events to draw people to Montreal for.”
And if there was any doubt that the perception of bad feelings is gone, Habel points to the city’s annual queer awards ceremony, held annually on May 17, the International Day against Homophobia. At the most recent ceremony – organized by Fierté Montréal – Divers/Cité organizers were honoured for their years of contribution to city life and the community. Divers/Cité board member Carle Bernier-Genest and co-founder Puelo Deir attended and accepted the award.
When Fierté Montréal unveiled its honorary presidents, spokesperson and guests of honour, however, it did manage to raise the ire of some gay Montrealers. “I’m really pretty amazed that a Pride event, held in a large gay centre like Montreal, could offer up an entirely white group of people to be its public face,” says Greg Byng, an international marketing consultant. “Could you imagine this happening in New York, LA or Toronto? No way. This sends a terrible message to other minorities in our city. This is not a good sign.”
Habel says she fully understands that diversity is an extremely sensitive and important issue for Fierté Montréal. “This has been one of our big areas of focus,” she insists. “We talk about this a great deal, but I know we still have miles to go.”
Habel points to the fact that one of this year’s guests of honour is trans activist Julie-Maude Beauchesne and that one of Fierté Montréal’s honorary presidents is Jean-Luc Romero, the first politician in France to be open about his HIV-positive status.
Habel also notes that last year, Fierté Montréal made Alice Nkom the grand marshal of the parade. Nkom is a human rights lawyer who has fought for gender equality and the rights of minorities in her native Cameroon.
“But I don’t want to make it sound like we’re making any excuses,” Habel adds. “Diversity is an extremely important responsibility. We do not want to exclude anyone. This is a very important goal and it’s something we continue to strive for.”
As well as the parade and all of the parties, drag shows and screenings, Fierté Montréal will also include an expanded, two-day conference on human rights.
Fierté Montréal runs Mon, Aug 13 to Sun, Aug 19. For more information and a complete schedule of events, visit fiertemontrealpride.com.