About 100 members of Vancouver’s queer community joined the Pride Society July 20 to celebrate the community’s “superstars” and “unsung heroes” at the first annual Pride Legacy Awards.
The 24 nominees “truly are community builders and they do it with such unabashed pride,” host Fred Lee told the audience at the Imperial on Main Street. “It’s our turn to celebrate their efforts.”
“This year the Vancouver Pride Society has attempted to put a face behind the heroic stories of change in our community,” said VPS manager Ray Lam. “The Legacy Awards are intended to capture those stories of unsung heroes that bind our community.”
“In a movement, it’s often the stance that you didn’t know you took that creates real lasting change,” Lam continued. “A sassy remark from a loving mother founded PFLAG [Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays]; a drag queen who said ‘enough is enough’ and threw her heels at a police officer started the modern LGBT movement at Stonewall; and a bookstore that refused to accept discrimination changed the course of Canadian censorship.”
The nominees, three for each of the eight award categories, were selected from a list of more than 50 names submitted by community members.
A selection committee comprised of individuals from various community organizations (including Xtra), shortlisted the nominees and selected the recipients through an anonymous voting process in which committee members were given a short biography for each nominee. Photos, names and gender identifying pronouns were omitted from the biographies to keep the selection process anonymous and fair, organizers say.
Bradford McIntyre, Shawn Ewing, Jag Bilkhu, Barb Snelgrove, Maria Foster, Joe Average, Dean Malone and Jen Sung took home the inaugural awards.
The eight awards, made of blown glass and shaped in a wave-like design, each represented a colour of the iconic rainbow flag.
For his long-time activism and personal battle in the area of HIV/AIDS, McIntyre, 61, was presented with the Legacy award for Sexual Health.
Cradling his bright pink award proudly in both hands, McIntyre’s voice cracked with emotion as he addressed the crowd.
“I started creating HIV and AIDS awareness because I didn’t want to see anybody go through what myself and others have gone through. And to be recognized for having done so is a great honour, especially from the GLBT community, who really is my family,” said McIntyre, who dedicated his award to “all the people affected and infected with HIV and AIDS and all those who we’ve lost.”
“We are making a difference,” McIntyre added, “but our work is not done.”
For his years of fundraising efforts, the hours of time he has volunteered sitting on various community groups’ boards, and now chairing the city of Vancouver’s LGBTQ Advisory Committee, Dean Malone received the Community Leaders award.
“It doesn’t matter what you’ve said. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It will matter how you’ve made people feel,” Malone told the crowd quietly, quoting writer Maya Angelou.
“I’m not done yet,” he promised. “My legacy is barely beginning.”
Despite leaving without the Legacy award for art, local artist Shaira (SD) Holman says her happiness for recipient and fellow artist, Joe Average, replaced any disappointment.
“I would have given it to Joe for all of his work with youth and charity and AIDS,” she says without hesitation after the ceremony. “I was absolutely sure that he would win and he is absolutely deserving of the Legacy award.”
Average was recognized for his iconic art which, as Lee put it, offered a beacon of light and hope to people in the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic.
Average says he was surprised by the nomination and win.
“I was kind of shocked. I wasn’t expecting it because nobody in the community has seen me for years and years and years, and I had just assumed they had all forgotten about me,” he says. “It feels totally awesome.”
Average, who was diagnosed with HIV in his late 20s, has dedicated his life to his art, much of which he has donated to AIDS organizations to help raise money and awareness.
“Art is important,” he says. “If it’s the one thing that you do, and that you want to do, then you should try to do it at all costs and starve for it.”
The Lifetime Achievement award, honouring an individual who has dedicated at least 10 years of volunteer service to one or more organizations that promotes the Vancouver Pride Society's core values, was presented to former VPS president Shawn Ewing.
Asked after the ceremony what the award means to her, Ewing pauses.
“Maybe that I left a mark,” she says. “That maybe I did something good.”
Ewing was a key member of the new board of directors that stepped forward to move the VPS out of a daunting $107,000 deficit position in 2003 and, after countless hours of hard work, get it back on track in the years that followed.
Asked what advice she has for future community leaders, Ewing doesn’t hesitate. “It’s about getting out there and doing it,” she says. “It’s about leaving yourself open to it. It’s about talking with people, listening to their stories and sharing.
“There are so many amazing, amazing people,” she says. “I’m able to accept this award because of so many amazing people… The people are what make it. Absolutely, the people are what make it.”
“There have been so many people in the community that have worked so hard to make this the best LGBTQ community in the world,” echoes award recipient Barb Snelgrove.
“I think everyone here tonight is deserving of an award,” Snelgrove told the crowd. “Anyone who volunteers in their community is a winner and a hero.”
Snelgrove received the Community Superstar award for her longstanding involvement with many local queer organizations, including the VPS, Qmunity, and the LOUD Foundation, which offers scholarships to queer youth and their allies.
Snelgrove also sits on Vancouver’s LGTBQ Advisory Committee, the Vancouver Police Department’s Diversity Advisory Committee, Positive Living BC’s Red Ribbon advisory panel and the Diversity Project’s advisory committee.
Liberal MP Hedy Fry, who attended the gala, says her former constituency assistant deserves the award. “I’m very proud of her. I know the kind of work Barb put into the community, she’s been doing it for so long,” Fry says.
“They are all extremely well deserving,” Fry adds.
Out In Schools program coordinator Jen Sung, who received the Youth Award for her anti-homophobia work in schools across the Lower Mainland and elsewhere in BC, hopes the Legacy awards inspire continued community participation.
“Hopefully this will inspire those who will continue the legacy of Pride and queer activism in the future,” she says.
Lam agrees. The whole point of establishing the Legacy awards is to officially and publicly recognize the activism being done and to inspire the community to notice the unsung heroes living among us every day, he says.
“Being queer makes us fellow travellers. But it’s the moments we share that make us a community.”