New Westminster celebrated its third annual Pride Aug 18, attracting the level of diversity organizers say they were hoping for.
“Our LGBTQ community came out and celebrated wholly with us, and I’m overwhelmed by the support from the city of New Westminster,” New West Royal City Pride Society (RCPS) president Shelly Reinhart said. “The uniqueness of each of us makes up the mosaic of this city.”
New West Mayor Wayne Wright agreed. “Plain and simple, you are the city’s pride.”
BC Premier Christy Clark, who also missed Vancouver Pride celebrations, did not attend New West Pride. Hector Bremner, the vice-president and communications chair of the New Westminster BC Liberal Constituency Association, attended in her absence.
“I’ve participated in a lot of other Pride events, but none other than this one is more touching,” Bremner told the nearly 100-strong crowd gathered on the steps of city hall for the reading of the Pride proclamation.
The festival in Tipperary Park was a colourful celebration that included queer organizations, youth, seniors and allies.
Festival grand marshals Michele Poitras and husband Ivan Westerlund were also thrilled by the show of diversity.
“In a smaller town community there is a sense of spirit,” Poitras said. “It’s not only a gay event; it’s an all-inclusive event for the whole community.”
Westerlund, who is hearing impaired, shared his excitement through a sign language translator, who accompanied him.
“I feel very proud. It is really great to see all the happy faces and see them all celebrating,” Westerlund said. “It brought a tear to my eye.”
Reinhart says fundraising has been a “huge priority” for the RCPS board.
“It’s been phenomenal. We’ve had so much support for the community, [and] it hasn’t just been queer-focused.”
She attributes that support to RCPS being more visible this year than in the past. “We’re really building relationships and more so because it is our third year.”
The first New West Pride attracted 300 participants; in 2011, there were 1,200 participants. And while there were only approximately 300 participants at the start of this year’s festival, Reinhart later told Xtra by phone that she estimates 1,700 people attended in total.
While Reinhart didn’t know the exact overall cost of the Pride festival, she did say that the society is grateful for all the in-kind donations that have filtered through the organization this year. “People have just been saying ‘yes’ to us; that is what I have experienced this whole season, and we’re really grateful and really excited about that.
“Our mandate is not just to get recognition within the LGBTQ community. We are going forward and we’re about building relationships with the whole community,” she said. “This is also a way for us to heal some people’s perceptions of who they think the community is, because they get to know us on a really personal basis.”
Vance McFadyen, founder of Royal City Pride Society, says his vision has been realized. “It’s holding true to the philosophy of being a family-friendly event.”
“I was born and brought up in New Westminster, and I didn’t think I’d ever see this day where we’d be out in the park . . . so to watch this develop is amazing,” McFadyen’s husband, Curt Higham, added.
Montreal native Lee Wilton, who took in the festival’s live music, said the New West event is the first BC Pride she’s attended since arriving on the West Coast less than three years ago. Having gay pride celebrations in suburban areas is just as important as hosting them in urban centres, she said.
Christian Lett, 27, and Teresa Taylor, 29, also New West Pride virgins, enjoyed the low-key vibe of the day. “It’s a big group of people; you can come and relax,” Taylor said when asked what she enjoyed most about the festival.
“I love lots of queer people in one place,” Lett added. “It’s nice being in a community around a lot of people.”