“It’s only been a couple of years from my idea of having a little dance to this,” says Royal City Pride Society (RCPS) founder Vance McFadyen, gesturing at the New Westminster Pride festival at Tipperary Park, which attracted more than 1,200 people on Aug 13.
Some 300 people attended the rainy inaugural Pride festivities, in 2010.
This year’s Pride Week ran from Aug 11 to 14. It included a concert featuring lesbian singer/songwriter Kate Reid at the Coming Home Café, followed by the Stonewall Party at the Heritage Grill on day two, the Hill & Heels fundraiser march on day 3 and a Pride brunch on day 4.
“I’m overwhelmed at how much has happened. It’s beyond my wildest dreams,” says McFadyen, who has called New Westminster home for 50 years.
“I’m so proud of my city,” New Westminster NDP MLA Dawn Black told Xtra. “As I walked along Sixth St, I saw so many people, local people, who were just out to celebrate and say, ‘Hi,’ and wave to the people as they walked up Sixth St. It made my heart feel good.”
The Hill & Heels afternoon trek lived up to the festival’s theme, Follow the Rainbow, as participants carried a long Pride flag up Sixth to the city hall steps, where Mayor Wayne Wright read the official proclamation. He was joined at the podium by other dignitaries, including Black; Labour Minister Stephanie Cadieux; former newscaster Pamela Martin, Premier Christy Clark’s outreach director; and former Liberal MLA Lorne Mayencourt, outreach director for the Liberal Caucus.
Before reading the proclamation, Wright took a moment to recognize McFadyen and his husband, Curt A Higham.
“They’ve done more in this city so that we can have a day like this — more than you can imagine,” Wright said to thunderous applause. “One person can make a difference. Two people can make a change. So thank you very much.”
McFadyen said he and the other organizers have received nothing but unconditional support from the city. “Five friends and I went to city council and asked for the original proclamation,” he recalled. “After only five minutes of discussion all of the councillors voted in favour of it.”
Following this year’s proclamation, Wright invited McFadyen, Higham and about a dozen other people to his office for a special toast.
The robust Pride celebrations had a special significance for Higham, whose family has lived in New Westminster since the 19th century.
“I was born in New Westminster and never thought I’d see this here,” he says. “I came out in 1975, and it was a very tough, closeted society back then. There was nothing in New Westminster, and the scene in Vancouver was underground. It’s great to see this in my hometown.”
Several attendees, including RCPS board member Nancy Kato, described the event as “homey.”
“A lot of LGBT people live here and a lot of us settled here,” says Kato, who has lived in the community since 1978. “It’s a safe place where we live quietly. We want to perpetuate family and community. Vancouver is more hectic, more transient. People in New Westminster tend to be very settled. We’ve lived here for a long time, owned property, and we want to make it homey.”
Julian Legere, who recently graduated from New Westminster Secondary School, agrees.
“I find it’s more friendly than Vancouver Pride, which is a huge event,” he says. “New Westminster is not quite as enormous. It’s homey, local and friendly for kids and family. Also, there’s no trek to Vancouver. There’s a lot of love here.”
Shelley Frankenstein, who came in from nearby South Burnaby with her dog Charo, appreciates the local focus.
“It’s good to see how different communities put on an event,” she says. “I find it more human scale, less corporate. It’s not a big-city mob scene.”
RCPS president Andre Hall says organizers worked to make the event more accessible by providing a wider variety of free events. “This year it’s different because the cost to get into all events has gone from $130 last year to a maximum of about $50 this year,” he notes. He says that coming up with the final slate of 2011 events was the result of a full year’s worth of work, compared to 2010, when organizers had only from May until August to prepare.
“Last year we said, ‘Let’s put a party on in the park,’ and this year we’ve taken it to another level,” Hall adds.
The festival portion featured 55 vendor booths, compared to 20 in 2010, representing various businesses, organizations and churches from in and around New Westminster. This year organizers included a main-stage component with MC Barb Snelgrove and featured performances by seven acts, including lesbian pop duo Sugarbeach.