The Vancouver Pride Society introduced this year’s parade grand marshals and handed out its annual community awards with a reworked name, categories and trophies on June 22, 2017.
Under a giant piece of rainbow cloth donated by Gilbert Baker, the designer of the original Pride flag who died in March, five people received the new megaphone-shaped statuettes for the StandOUT Awards’ six categories. The new awards, which replace the Pride Legacy Awards launched in 2013, are defined more broadly in order to honour a greater diversity of nominees, VPS co-director Charmaine De Silva told the audience.
Nominees are submitted by the public. Those who accept their nomination provide biographies for a selection committee, which then decides the winner in each category. The VPS says it has no input into the selection process.
Some community activists declined their nomination this year in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and racialized people who continue to feel excluded by the Pride parade and the presence of police in the parade.
Fatima Jaffer, founder of the queer South Asian support group Trikone, says she declined her nomination for the Social Activist Award because the awards seem to ignore the issues of race politics raised by groups like Black Lives Matter across North America. “It makes us complicit with something that makes me really uncomfortable,” she told Xtra.
The VPS also announced its grand marshals at the StandOUT event: trans youth activist Tru Wilson and her family, who successfully challenged Catholic schools in the Lower Mainland to adopt trans-friendly policy; Carrie Serwetnyk, the first woman inducted into Canada’s soccer hall of fame and director of Equal Play, a non-profit which supports women and girls in sport; and posthumously, Fraser Doke, an HIV awareness advocate and long-time volunteer with the Pride Society and numerous LGBT charities. Doke will be represented by friends Grant McCarthy, Kim Stacey and Shawn Ewing.
Now, meet the 2016 StandOUT Award recipients:
Travis Angus, Business Leader Award
A foster parent of four children, Travis Angus is a member, former president and two-time princess of the Greater Vancouver Native Cultural Society.
He says when he began working with the government of his nation, he was surprised at how little people understood about LGBT and two-spirit people.
“We’re not just educating our people, we’re educating our nation and the people who come and work with us from the provincial and federal government,” Angus, who identifies as two-spirit, told the audience.
“My reserve, we’ve gone through treaty about 12 years ago and they’re ready for the world, the pipelines, they’re ready for everything,” he says. “But they weren’t ready for me. Growing up there I had to find my way through the communities and build myself to be as strong as I am today so that way I was able to flatten that path for our people that walk after us on the reserves or in the nation, so that way they don’t have the same hurt that we had growing up.”
He says working with the BC Foster Parents Federation, Aboriginal Children and Family Services, the Nisga’a nation, and hosting workshops allows him to teach about love and acceptance.
That means “being positive, showing your energy for who you are and respect for everyone who walks your path,” he says. “Because you never know what that connection is going to bring next year or tomorrow, that one way or another our stories are going to be combined together to tell the world, this is who we are and what we stand for.”
Idris Hudson, Educator Award
After overcoming negative experiences in drugs and the sex trade, Idris Hudson worked with the Health Initiative for Men’s (HIM) Transitions program for sex workers, and helped found Untoxicated, the annual clean and sober Pride event.
Hudson says growing up without access to the internet made finding a sense of belonging challenging as a youth.
“I ran away from home to Vancouver in 1995 and that’s where my education as a young gay man started. I didn’t learn how to be a strong confident gay man growing up in small town BC,” he says. “I jumped into nightlife because that’s where I found acceptance.”
Hudson says he began building his value system and concept of self-worth inside gay bars.
“I learned that the more clothing I took off, the more money I was worth. The more I took off, the more events I was invited to. The more I took off, the more I was accepted by people I wanted to be accepted by. That education was skewed.”
Hudson says he used drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism in place of positive guidance or mentorship, until he wound up on the streets of the Downtown Eastside.
He says his story is a common one, and now he feels a responsibility to step in and be the kind of teacher he never had.
He cheers the fact that Vancouver has many free-to-access support services for addictions and points to the HIM Transitions program, which empowers people in the sex industry to come back into the community, have conversations, and possibly make new choices.
“That’s the community that we have,” he says. “That’s how we treat our citizens and it’s really fantastic.”
Danny Ramadan, Social Activist Award
When author and activist Danny Ramadan fled his home in Syria to Lebanon and eventually to Vancouver in 2014, he found a different set of problems.
“I was surrounded by a lot of love but there were so many issues tangled with that love,” he says. “I felt grateful for all the support I got, but at the same time I felt tokenized and belittled, that my experiences before that meant nothing.”
Speaking up about racism lost him friends, he admits.
“I lost many friends when I talked about the white-centric gay community.”
He says friends abandoned him again when he spoke up in support of the Pride Society’s stance on police in the parade.
“I have a lot of friends in Black Lives Matter who identify with the call for police not to march in uniform,” he explains. “I lost some friends because I didn’t speak in solidarity with BLM, because I didn’t outright support them and boycott the parade. I spoke in support of a dialogue because I believe this is the way to go.”
Ramadan promises he’ll keep trying to do his part to change the world, and tells the audience about the dedication he wrote for his new book: “To the children of Damascus, This is what I did with my heartache . . . What about yours?”
Jacquoline Martin, Friend of the Environment Award
Through her work as the founder of the Vancouver Outreach Program to feed homeless people, and with the Society to End Homelessness in Burnaby, Jacquoline Martin met a woman whose story inspired a plea to the audience for everyday kindness during Martin’s acceptance speech.
“Today we had a memorial for a beautiful woman named Alda,” Martin says.
“Alda for 30 years sat in front of an RBC. She passed away at the age of 87. Alda did what she could. She was visibly homeless. She collected income. She sat there lonely day after day and people hissed at her. They hated her because she panhandled, and she died lonely. And the reality is, she died without an identity. And this is the reality of many people who are homeless in Vancouver. They will die without an identity and it’s very frightening.”
Martin, who has epilepsy, does not want others to fear losing their jobs or experiencing social isolation and unnecessary restrictions in life. She says this drives her advocacy work.
She asked the audience to practice more loving compassion throughout their lives.
Cormac O’Dwyer, Youth Award, Kimberly Nixon Trans, Two-Spirit, Gender Non-conforming Contribution to Community Award
When Cormac O’Dwyer came out as trans in 2008 at the age of 13, he was one of the lucky ones, he says now.
“Thinking about this award, I guess what I really want to recognize is that I had my struggles, but I had my family behind me and I had my community behind me and I’m really privileged to have been that person who could have spoken out, could come out publicly in school and could then afford to facilitate the groups, to do talks at hospitals and do all those things,” he says.
O’Dwyer later helped set up the Trans Care BC program. Currently, O’Dwyer works for the University of British Columbia’s sexual assault centre and hosts community youth groups in the tri-cities area with other trans advocates.
Though he says he feels honoured to receive both the Youth and Kimberly Nixon awards, it’s the trans youth who attend his support groups who are truly brave, he says.
“When I really think about it, we have groups in the tri-cities areas and we have kids 13 to 25 that come up each week and those are the kids that actually should be here winning these awards,” O’Dwyer says. “Those are the kids that are taking way more risks than I am by being here. Those are the kids whose parents aren’t supportive, who don’t have parents at all, those kids are coming out each week, taking buses for two hours to get there, and those are the kids that we need to be supporting with these awards.”