“I, Mayor John Ruttan, declare the week of June 19 to 25, 2011, Gay Pride Week in the city of Nanaimo!”
With these few simple words the crowd of more than 50 bursts into applause. A brief moment later, the rainbow flag rises slowly up the pole, the Aviva Women’s Chorus breaks into song and Nanaimo Pride has officially begun.
A glance around the crowd reveals a quiet but delighted group of every age, race and orientation standing together, side by side, with heads held high. A few have tears in their eyes as they watch their flag assume its place. Others gaze around, drinking in the sight of their community, revelling in the sense of togetherness that can be felt only when one has fought a battle for one’s rights and won.
“It makes me cry,” says Sandi Turner, beaming. “As queer people we have the rainbow flag, and that’s ours. And that’s flying above the city that we live in, and it makes me proud.”
Her spouse, ET Turner, a member of the Vancouver Island Rainbow Association, agrees. “It makes me feel really good, really proud and very glad that Nanaimo is as progressive as it is.”
City Councillor Fred Pattje sums up the overwhelming sentiment running through the crowd: “It’s a terrifically proud feeling.”
For many members of Vancouver Island Pride and their supporters, this small ceremony marks a delightful conclusion to what has been a long, hard fight. As recently as 2008, and in years previous, Pride was not recognized by the city of Nanaimo. Former mayor Gary Korpan famously walked out of a council meeting a few years ago to protest that gay activists had dared to request a mayoral proclamation for Pride Week. The activists kept at it, and in 2009 newly elected Mayor Ruttan officiated at the city’s first flag raising and issued an official proclamation recognizing Nanaimo Gay Pride Week.
Since then, Nanaimo Pride has flourished. The Island Rainbow Association’s website now boasts a full week of events, including bowling, a dance and a presentation of the Harvey Fierstein adaptation of Torch Song: Widows and Children First, starring Rick Myers and Kirsten Peters.