I remember the initial rush of stepping onto Denman St. I remember searching for friends in a sea of mostly unfamiliar faces and jockeying for a spot in the crowd.
I remember a few of the parade participants: the usuals like Little Sister’s and the unusuals like the border guards who still occasionally block their books yet were enthusiastically applauded by almost everyone around me.
Mostly, I remember feeling let down.
A little like the way you feel when you go home again and discover that the big monster slide you loved as a kid only comes up to your waist.
“Is this it?” I wondered as yet another corporate slogan inched by.
It’s not the corporate presence I resent so much. It’s more the absence of us, of all things gay. Of a truly gay celebration, with meaning and character and sexy, campy fun.
I feel like we’re being pushed aside at our own party.
And I’m not alone. I have yet to find a non-newbie who is enthusiastically anticipating this year’s parade. Some grudgingly say they’ll go but only because they feel they should. Others are simply done.
What’s wrong with this picture? Why has Pride lost its meaning for so many of us?
I wonder if this is how Christians feel about Christmas? Like their once meaningful expression of culture and spirituality has been taken over by mall Santas and Hallmark moments? Sure, it’s better than being fed to lions, but how many people partaking in their Yuletide cheer even know what they’re cheering about?
I think the problem is that our community is at a crossroads. Some of us long for the days of gay gone by, for the less diluted expression of ourselves that we proudly presented only a decade ago.
Others are only too happy to blend into the majority and look forward to the day when Pride is indistinguishable from the Santa Claus parade.
Neither camp is comfortable with the current incarnation of Pride. Still too gay for them; not gay enough for me.
No wonder none of us feel truly represented by the parade we each feel entitled to claim as our own.
Bob Christie may have an answer. In his powerful film Beyond Gay, he suggests we revive our Pride parades by channelling them into a global gay movement and fighting a common enemy.
It’s partly his commitment to supporting emerging Prides in places like Moscow, where it’s still dangerous to assemble while gay, and partly his way of making our own Prides meaningful again.
I’m certainly not opposed to supporting gay groups around the globe. But I think we need to look inside as well.
I think we need to confront the widening split in our community.
Is it time for a spinoff parade that is less corporate and “family-friendly” and more fun and Mardi Gras–style gay? A night march, perhaps, that’s not bound by the increasingly influential desire to be palatable to straight spectators.
Settling for a spinoff may be the most feasible answer, but I’m reluctant to surrender our Pride parade.
“I understand your hunger [to celebrate ourselves] and I know it’s shared by many,” Christie says. “It’s why I covered the [New York] drag march in the film. Maybe in a couple of years, Vancouver Pride will be in a place to host an event of that sort in addition to the parade,” he suggests.
Christie doubts the main parade will change course now. But it’s not impossible, he notes.
The parade entries are first come, first serve. So if you want a different feel, step up. “If you have a problem with it not speaking to you, get in there and march.”
He’s right, of course. We are at a crossroads, but the road we take from here is up to us.
We’re all longing for something that better reflects our own sense of gay, whether that’s a renewed celebration of our distinct culture, or confirmation that we’re no different from the mainstream.
The question is which “us” will ultimately win the day.
What would make Pride meaningful to you?