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Montreal gala honours queer community leaders

Former MP Svend Robinson, activists & volunteers honoured

ARC-EN-CIEL GALA. GRIS-Montreal volunteer and board member Robert Pilon won the Prix Coup du Coeur. Credit: Hugues Bergevin photo

Montreal’s sixth annual Prix Arc-en-ciel gala could almost be called Montreal’s gay version of the Oscars. With pomp and fanfare, Arc-en-ciel honoured the people making things happens In Montreal’s queer community.

“We’re so happy to be celebrating the candidates that have been nominated, and the laureates who won,” says Steve Foster, president of the Conseil québécois des gais et lesbiennes. “It’s so crucial to celebrate — especially in the context of the current global situation.”

The award ceremony, held Oct 19 at Montreal’s historic Lion d’Or, honoured local and national queer activists. Svend Robinson — Canada’s first openly gay MP — took home the Grand Prize for his work as a politician and human rights activist.

Other noteworthy activists were present at the event, including Paul Haince, one of the pioneers of the city’s Gay Village. Three decades ago, Haince started up the gay magazine Attitude. He has been a key figure in the Village’s development through his involvement in the area’s club scene, business association and arts festival. Haince told he is surprised a prize was given to a man of his age, but he nonetheless recognizes the major gains queers have made in the past 30 years. How was the Village different back then?

“When I got here in 1982, the Village did not exist,” he says. “It was an eastern neighbourhood, run-down, boarded up. So when I got here, there was maybe only two or three gay businesses. All the nocturnal life happened in the west end of the city.”

The Gala also honoured up-and-coming community leaders. Robert Pilon was given the prize for favourite local volunteer at GRIS-Montreal, an organization that holds workshops in schools to demystify homosexuality.

Pilon says it started with GRIS-Montreal staff nominating him, and his partner starting a Facebook campaign to get him the recognition he felt Pilon deserved. It worked — Pilon won the Prix Coup de Coeur (audience choice award).

“It was really flattering and embarrassing at the same time,” says Pilon. “I didn’t know what to say! But when you volunteer you don’t do it for [notoriety], or to get like ‘the Oscar.’”

Pilon tentatively forayed into the Montreal gay community as he came out, getting involved in the Outgames in 2006. “It was only when I came to GRIS that I realized I was part of the gang. That’s when I started to love the [Montreal] gay community, the lesbians, the leather people, the trans people.”