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Meet the 2016 Pride Legacy Award winners

Vancouver Pride salutes local community leaders

Now more than ever we need to come together and celebrate our community, host Barb Snelgrove said, as she helped the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) honour eight local leaders at its annual Legacy Awards, June 18, 2016.

This year’s Pride Legacy Awards added a new category to recognize contributions in trans activism. But the Community Leaders category was not awarded this year, as it received no nominations, says VPS Events Director Andrea Arnot.  

In addition to the awards, the VPS also announced its parade grand marshals for 2016: Alex Sangha, founder of Sher Vancouver, a group for LGBT South Asians and their friends, families and allies; Danny Ramadan, who works tirelessly with Rainbow Refugee to sponsor LGBT Syrian and other refugees to come to Canada; Morgane Oger, chair of the Trans Alliance Society and a vocal advocate for trans rights locally and across Canada; and, posthumously, Empress 1 Charity, who will be represented in the parade by her partner, Dino Padgett.

This year’s Pride theme is “better together.”

Now, meet the 2016 Pride Legacy Award recipients:

Dean Thullner
Sexual Health and HIV Awareness Award

(David Macgillivray/Daily Xtra)

Diagnosed with HIV when he was 27 years old in 1987 and given just months to live, Dean Thullner fell into deep despair. But as the years went on and he survived, Thullner says the community to which he now dedicates his life pulled him through years of struggle.

Thullner is the driving force behind some of the community’s most successful HIV fundraisers. He is the founder and, until recently, the producer of Brilliant!, which has raised money for the St Paul’s Hospital Foundation since 2012.

He founded and produced the Red fashion show in 2015 to benefit the Positive Living Society of BC, and he hosted and helped produce the Strut launch parties for the Foundation of Hope in 2015 and 2016.

“Having this second chance at life, I am honoured to have the opportunity to give back to the community that supported me, our friends and our family through this devastating pandemic that brought us all here together,” Thullner said, as he accepted his Legacy Award. “It has always been through the relentless commitment and dedication of this community that I am able to stand here in front of you today.”

He attributed the success of his events to the passion of hundreds of volunteers.

“They do this relentlessly and selflessly and without hesitation, and this is why I donate this [award] to them,” Thullner said, his voice choking with emotion.

“I look forward to many more years of bringing like-minded people together, reminding one another that it is crucial, it is essential, and how important it is that communities help communities.”

Morgane Oger
Trans-Activist Award

(David Macgillivray/Daily Xtra)

Morgane Oger, a mother of two, says she knows other parents’ feelings about her trans identity hold her back from providing mentorship to those who need it most: youth questioning their own gender.

Oger is a member of the City of Vancouver’s LGBT advisory committee, chair of the Trans Alliance Society, and secretary of the Vancouver school board’s District Parent Advisory Committee.

Oger said she was with her child at a Scouts Canada camp prior to the awards ceremony when she noticed another 13-year-old was “latching on” to her for companionship.

“Every chance he had, he would come to see me and show me, it was like a big world that opened to him, and he was clearly gender-fluid or gender-variant, maybe he was a trans person,” Oger said, as she accepted her award.

But Oger did not talk to the youth about gender. “A fool of a trans adult activist would strike up too close a relationship with a 13-year-old child at Scouts,” Oger explained. “That would be dangerous. And so I couldn’t even do that, I didn’t have the freedom. And that’s the problem that we’re trying to fix.”

Oger criticized Premier Christy Clark’s provincial government for being “blind and tone deaf” to transgender rights, despite the coming federal Bill C-16 that, if passed, will protect Canadians from discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

Oger predicts the federal bill will pass because “no politician is brave enough to stand in the way of that wave anymore.”

“So we’ll get there but we’ll still be marginalized, all of us, more or less, depending on what our identities are,” Oger said. “And we’ll still have trouble helping a 13-year-old child at a Scout camp. So we have a long way to go.”

 

Rohan Hare
Sports Award

(David Macgillivray/Daily Xtra)

As a recent transplant from Melbourne, Australia, Rohan Hare knows that finding new friends in Vancouver can be tough.

When he saw volunteers from the Health Initiative for Men at parties and events, he was inspired. “I decided I wanted to contribute and do something for the community. I didn’t want another part-time job doing something, but just something on a regular basis where I can use my skills,” Hare told Daily Xtra by phone after the awards ceremony.

He began volunteering for HIM and the Vancouver Frontrunners. Hare is now president of the Frontrunners, and director of the group’s Pride Run and Walk event.

“You often hear the stories about how it can be a bit of a cliquey city and hard to find a group of friends,” Hare says. “By offering that welcome space for everybody, including trans people, who show up and feel so safe and welcome around us, I feel that’s really neat and kind of my way of giving back.”

Zdravko Cimbaljevic
Volunteer of the Year Award

(David Macgillivray/Daily Xtra)

Zdravko Cimbaljevic says the threats began shortly after he came out as the first openly gay man in his home country of Montenegro in 2011. But that didn’t stop him from launching the small Balkan country’s LGBT Forum Progress, or from organizing its first Pride parade.

In honour of Cimbaljevic’s courage, the Vancouver Pride Society invited him to be a parade grand marshal in 2013.

Cimbaljevic still remembers what it felt like to be cheered by so many people.

But when he returned home from Vancouver, Cimbaljevic was greeted by more than 250 death threats. After hiding under siege in his apartment for a month, with no support from his government or local police, he decided he had no choice but to flee. He returned to Vancouver and requested, and was granted, asylum.

He now works for AIDS Vancouver and TD Bank and volunteers on the board of Rainbow Refugee, where he helps support other LGBT refugees seeking to build new lives in Canada.

At the Legacy Awards ceremony, Cimbaljevic choked up while speaking about the life he left in Montenegro.

“It is tough to leave everything behind, not because you want to, not because you plan to, to study or work or something like that — you literally need to leave immediately. And that means leaving your family, your loved ones, your friends,” he said.

Cimbaljevic said he hopes to inspire people to look at refugees not with disdain but as people with diverse experiences who contribute and help build cultural bridges in their communities.

Myriam Dumont
Safe Spaces Award

(David Macgillivray/Daily Xtra)

While pregnant with her first child, elementary school teacher Myriam Dumont realized she had no place to meet with other queer families or expecting parents to share information.

So she created Queer Families of Vancouver. She says the group now serves more than 300 parents who meet regularly.

“I hope and I think it’s been a space for folks to share information, and for our kids to look and see other families that look like theirs, and to see families that don’t look like their own and gain a lot from that,” she said, as she accepted her award.

Kids of queer families are going to change the world, Dumont predicts, as they become leaders in shaping more inclusive school environments. Someday children with one mother and one father may find themselves in the minority, she said with a smile.

John Boychuk
Lifetime Achievement Award

(David Macgillivray/Daily Xtra)

John Boychuk remembers the hostility he encountered while doing community outreach for the Vancouver Pride Society in some smaller communities around BC.

As president of the Vancouver Pride Society from 2005 to 2008, Boychuk helped launch enduring events and partnerships, such as the Davie Street Dance Party and the BC Outreach Committee, as well as resurrect defunct events such as Eastside Pride.

“All I ever wanted to do was make a better community,” Boychuk said, as he accepted his Lifetime Achievement Award.

When visiting businesses around Prince George with the outreach team to encourage support for the local queer communityBoychuk says he received a less than warm welcome.

“There were a few instances where people got upset,” he recalls. “In a bar, specifically, I can remember, two guys were like, ‘What the fuck are you doing here, you don’t have the right to be in our town, you’re not even from here.’”

Luckily, Boychuk says, two women in the bar stood up to say the Vancouver Pride Society’s delegation had as much right as anyone else to be in the bar.

“That’s when we realized that outreach — making a difference and taking our voices to the communities around us and lending support — is where the grassroots comes trickling back on down.”

Boychuk says that moment cemented his belief in the power of outreach and “was very instrumental in me remaining active within the community and wanting to continue to build out these events.”

He still volunteers with Pride to help out with parade day, he says.

 

John Ferrie
Art Award

(David Macgillivray/Daily Xtra)

“Growing up gay in Calgary in 1977 with the last name Ferrie was a hell like no other,” artist John Ferrie said in his acceptance speech, “and I lived in my sketchbook, and I lived in fear, and I lived in self-loathing” without any gay role models.

But he relocated to Vancouver, attending Emily Carr for art and design. As AIDS surfaced, Ferrie donated up to 30 paintings a year to organizations including AIDS Vancouver, YouthCo, A Loving Spoonful, and Friends for Life.

Ferrie says the community embraced him, loved him and “showed me how to be a better person.”

But if someone had told him in 1977 that he’d receive “an award just for being me, I would have thought they were goofed on skunkweed,” he said.

Rachel Garrett
Youth Award

(David Macgillivray/Daily Xtra)

As a coordinator of the Pride Collective at the University of British Columbia, Rachel Garrett says she and her fellow collective members felt shaken when the campus Pride flag was burned in February.

Now in her second year at UBC, Garrett was a community organizer from a young age.

At 14, she started an LGBT alliance at her school in Delta and by 16, she and the group’s members presented an anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia policy to their school district.

Tragic events such as the June 12 shooting in Orlando demonstrate once again that our communities have an “incredible” ability to come together and create safe space, she said.