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7 min

It’s ‘great to be gay!’

Behind the scenes and amid the spectators at the 2005 Pride Parade

HIGH-ENERGY HOMOS: Affirming, fun, fantastic, heart-warming-just some of the words used to describe this year's Pride Parade down Denman St and Beach Ave, Jul 31. 'It's the one day of the year that we Credit: Wendy D Photo

BEHIND THE FLOATS

10:45 am
Floats and parts of floats squash into the tiny side streets in the area around Denman and Robson. A cheerful man in asstastic leather shorts and a Pride Society T-shirt directs traffic into an organized flow.

“I’m a float parker,” says volunteer parade assembly marshal Stewart Boreski. “So far it’s coming together. We’re getting some late arrivals as always, but it’s great.”

Boreski doesn’t understand why more people don’t volunteer on Pride Day for tasks like his.

“I see it this way,” he says. “The Pride Society goes out of its way to get the parade going and everything. Everybody wants the parade, but nobody wants to help. It’s great, you learn, you get to know people.”

11:30 am
At the start of the parade route, dozens of dykes have lines up their bikes under the blasting sun.

Near the front of the pack sits a bike gleaming with fresh paint. It belongs to Janice Delcourt who has the most amazing tattoos covering both arms. This isn’t her first parade, but it’s going to be the first time she’s been able to ride her own bike.

“I just got my bike and I just painted it like two days ago because I wanted to get it done for the parade,” she gushes. She’s so excited, just listening to her talk draws smiles from the people around her.

“Being at the start of the parade is great. It gets everybody up and excited and I always like to be part of that crowd,” she beams. “Today is the day we can show our true colours. We can be whoever we want to be, do whatever we want, and it’s just very diverse.”

11:45 am
Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell stands in the middle of Denman St waiting for his turn to march.

“It’s the third Pride Parade that I’ve been in and I think I’ll continue it as a private citizen,” he grins. “It’s just so much fun, and the community support every year just blows me away. Plus, I have to add, it’s about $30 million into our economy.”

11:55 am
The Pride Society radio crackles to life. Society president Shawn Ewing’s voice is recognizable. “Get ready, marshals, we’re soon to go,” she says.

Almost exactly five minutes later, Ewing’s voice comes over the air again. “We got to go. We got to go. Parade marshals, be aware. Please keep people back. Let’s get the dykes moving. Some of them drive well; some of them don’t drive so well. Please, safety, safety, safety, marshals. Please keep people off the road.”

The parade is finally under way. It looks chaotic, but it’s really a complex order. The floats start moving off the side streets onto the parade route. A couple of stragglers show up only minutes before the parade is to begin, but volunteers quickly get them into place.

12:35 pm
The radio crackles to life once again. A parade marshal at Denman and Barclay is calling for help. “There’s a medical emergency,” he says. “We need an ambulance right away.”

At about the same time, another report of someone who needs an ambulance comes in from Denman and Davie. Someone says 911 has been called and help is on the way.

The marshal at Barclay calls again and again for an ambulance. Each call is more frantic than the last.

At the scene, a young woman sits on the curb. She’s white as a sheet with a thousand-yard stare and she’s stopped sweating. People around her are fanning her as best they can, but the sun’s still beating down on her.

Ewing seems able to materialize herself at any point along the parade route at any time regardless of the mass of people. She does it now.

She gets the people around the heat-exhausted young woman to coax her to her feet long enough to get her into the air conditioned comfort of a nearby business where she can recover.

Once the situation is handled, Ewing disappears as quickly as she appeared like some kind of leather-clad super hero.

1:45 pm
The marshal at the back of the staging area sends the radio message the organizers of the parade have been waiting for: “The last float has just been staged. That’s it everyone! Enjoy!”

You can hear relief and even gratitude in Ewing’s voice as she acknowledges from blocks away. “Thank you so much for those words of wonderfulness,” she says. “That was great. We’ll see you at the festival site.”

That doesn’t mean the end of the parade, but it does mean the end of the beginning of the parade.

2:15 pm
Xtra West finally catches up with Ewing as she moves through the crowd at Sunset Beach toward the Pride Society tent.

She’s just come off the parade route and she’s eager to find her partner, but she looks like she’s going to melt into a puddle before she gets to her. It’s a scorcher and she’s hardly dropped from a full sprint for two hours.

“Things are going well,” she says. “I’m so pleased with the turnout. We’ve done so much better this year with the help of the increased volunteer base.”

She won’t know the exact numbers until after the parade, but she guesses almost 100 volunteers came out to help this year. That’s up from a measly 22 last year.

“We couldn’t have done it without them,” she says. She seems genuinely moved by the outpouring of volunteer support.

Ewing says she took a three-year contract out on her soul for this parade. That’s a steep price. But she qualifies that by saying she was only gambling for the sunshine.

“This is the third year,” she says. “Somebody’s going to have to put their soul on the table because mine’s pretty much gone.”

Does that mean Ewing’s going to hang up her radio before next year’s event?

She gives a wry smile. “We’ll have to see.”

But you can tell she loves it when a plan comes together.

***

BY THE BOATHOUSE

11:22 am
Margaret Mackenzie stands just off the curb in front of the Falafel King on Denman St, her partner’s hands affectionately rubbing her shoulders as she scans the still-empty street in anticipation. It’s her first-ever Pride Parade.

“I guess I’ve just never had enough nerve to come down before,” she says. “I didn’t want to be identified with the community.”

Now, she says, she’s older, she’s in a new relationship, and she doesn’t care as much about what other people might think.

“I’m enjoying being with a group of people I belong with,” the 58-year-old lesbian says. Pride means “a lack of fear and being able to feel comfortable within myself.”

11:31 am
Shawn Smith and his partner Craig Mathews are sitting on the curb across from Delany’s, having come up from Seattle specifically for Vancouver’s Pride celebrations.

“I can feel the excitement in the air,” Smith smiles. “It’s kind of contagious.”

Smith has only been out for a couple of years and clearly remembers a time when he would have “cut my right arm off” not to be gay. Now, he says, “it’s like I released a big burden off my shoulders. This is who I am.”

Pride is about “actually embracing who I am and not fighting it as I’ve done all my life,” he says.

“Everybody has different paths,” he notes; “this is what brings everyone together.”

11:43 am
Graeme Willson and his “wild honey” Kevin Reichmuth have been sitting on newspaper boxes at the southeast corner of Denman and Davie since 10 am. It’s their first Pride together.

Pride is a time to celebrate friends, Reichmuth says, snuggling with Willson. “It’s like one great house party.”

Especially this year, says Willson, “with gay marriage being legalized, it’s a celebration of our rights and righteousness and who we are.”

“Pride is a great way to really make a statement,” says Reichmuth. “We’re here to be ourselves and we’re proud of that and don’t care what other people think.”

11:52 am
Calgarian Darlene Murphy and her friends are in high spirits sitting by the curb across from Milestone’s at English Bay. “It’s a wonderful celebration,” she says. Everybody’s out celebrating who they are.”

There’s nothing like this in Calgary, she continues. “It’s so affirming and heart-warming. It’s kind of nice to get away from conservative, redneck attitudes for at least a five-day weekend.”

“The support is absolutely overwhelming,” says her friend Pauline Anderson.

12:02 pm
In a long purple dress and black heels, Pride Parade host Joan-E turns on her microphone and welcomes the crowd from the base of the Boathouse restaurant on Beach Ave. “With everything we’ve accomplished, this is a year to celebrate,” she begins.

12:04 pm
Joan-E is drowned out by the arrival of the dykes on bikes, revving their motors and waving at the crowd. The crowd erupts into cheers. Vancouver’s 2005 Pride Parade has officially begun.

12:17 pm
Rick Leonovich is very happy to be back at the Pride Parade this year. He missed it last year after he broke his hip.

He still can’t walk but says he feels “wonderful” to be sitting in his wheelchair across from the Boathouse as the floats begin to roll by.

Pride means freedom, he says, smiling as a float celebrating same-sex marriage goes by. “The freedom to be partners, to marry, to be ourselves, to be proud of ourselves.”

Everyone’s been really friendly, he notes, his view of the parade unobstructed.

12:25 pm
The crowd cheers as a large Vancouver Police Department contingent walks by, followed by a fire truck and a group of paramedics. “Hose us down,” the increasingly sweaty spectators yell to the people in the fire truck. They try to oblige, but their hose seems to have run dry.

1:02 pm
This is “fantastic!” says Michael Pohlmann, standing shirtless on the sidewalk across from the Boathouse, surrounded by friends. “This is such a high-energy parade. It’s so much fun! And the weather is so nice.”

“Why? Because god loves gays!” quips his friend Todd Sutherland.

Sutherland is soaking up the crowd’s energy. “It feels so incredibly great to be gay!” he says.

“So many homos in one place! I love it!” adds his friend Kevin Attewell, visiting from Victoria.

A drag queen in a huge pink foamy-looking wig marches by. “I love your hair,” yells Pohlmann.

1:41 pm
Sabrina Michel drove eight and a half hours from Prince George to watch Vancouver’s Pride Parade. “It’s the one day of the year that we can all come together and be proud of who we are,” the University of Northern BC student says. “It’s your day where you can just be you.

“I just feel like I’m home.

“I wish every day could be like this,” she continues. “You get, like, goosebumps.”

Her favourite floats of the day? Dykes on bikes, of course. And PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) “because we wish that our moms would be that proud of us.”

2:04 pm
Wearing nothing but beads, a nipple piercing and a rainbow sarong, Chad Dickamore cheers on the Rainy City Gay Men’s Chorus as they march down Beach Ave singing “All That Jazz.” Dickamore has come all the way from Utah to join Vancouver’s Pride festivities.

“I love it here,” he says. “I love your city, I love the people, I want to move here. Everybody is so accepting and welcoming.”

“Where I come from, you just don’t see this kind of accepting, open fun,” agrees his friend Tyson Dawson. “I don’t know how to describe it, really. It just feels good.”