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Over half a million revel in the heat of Pride

'Within my lifetime, homosexuality has gone from criminal offense to a celebrated culture': Coolen

REVVING UP IN PRIDE. The Dykes on Bikes roared their way into the hearts of the many-person deep crowds lining West End streets for Vancouver's 31st annual Pride parade. Over half a million people are estimated to have thronged the parade route. Credit: Janet Rerecich photo

(Check out Xtra.ca’s Vancouver Pride gallery and video)

“I guess Mother Nature was a drag queen and she’s looking down on us today because it is absolutely beautiful out here,” drag entertainer Symone said. “I think it’s our biggest Pride ever! The floats were amazing and people have been so receptive,” she added.

From booby burlesque beauties and leggy can-can dancers to uniformed Mounties and scantly-clad politicians, the parade, boasting 150 entries, was a spectacle of celebration and awareness centered on the theme of education, celebration and liberation.

Parade organizers estimate that 530,000 people battled record-breaking heat to attend Vancouver’s 31st annual Pride parade this year — sporting glitter, feathers and birthday suits, all united under the scorching sun, Aug 2.

Evan Teed, 37, sat with friends on a curb near the end of the parade route at Sunset Beach. He was naked except for multi-colored painted toenails and a self-fashioned rainbow windsock around his cock.

“For a lot of people the parade offers a lot of empowerment and for those still feeling [subjugated] it helps them develop their inner strength in being who they are,” Teed told Xtra West. “For (openly gay) people like me or for straight people it’s more about just a great fun day,” he added.

But there’s still a lot to be done, Teed observed.

“There are still jerks out there, there are still bigots out there and people who just don’t get it. But generally Vancouver has a lot of acceptance.”

Parent Tracy Rollins decided to attend the parade with her children for the first time this year. Mother of four-year-old Nolan and six-year-old Bronwyn, Rollins brought her family to the parade to show support to the children’s uncle who is gay and currently in Germany for a gay soccer tournament.

“We come to support him and have fun at the parade,” she said.

Rollins, whose husband works for the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) and participated in the parade himself, said the event is all about fun. “It doesn’t matter [if you are] gay or straight,” she said. “We are having fun at the parade and everyone has been so kind.”

“It is about coming, together,” agreed Symone, who emceed the post-Pride parade festival at Sunset Beach. It’s about gay people, straight people, transgender, bisexual. It is about everyone coming together to show solidarity.”

At the parade with his family, Jeremy, known to friends as Big Juicy Meat, watched the event through heart-shaped glasses.

“Look around you,” he said with a smile. “[The parade] is one of the best things in the city.”

“What did I say to you today?” he then asked his daughter. “I said, ‘This is dad’s favourite day in the city,’” he said. “We love to dress up. We love to have a good time. We love freedom of expression. We love the fact that collectively the city can get together and openly celebrate alternative lifestyles and at the same time family values,” he elaborated.

Yet even as Jeremy eagerly celebrated Pride, he felt the parade has become too political. “There’s a lot of politicians and church groups, which is great, [but] in a perfect world, I think the politicians should stay out of it,” he said.

Then he relented somewhat.

“If it brings a message to people that may not necessarily get it, then it could not be such a bad thing,” he allowed.

This year Vancouver City Hall extended an invitation to city service departments to march in solidarity under the theme of “Zero tolerance violence against the LGBTQ community.”

The float, which portrayed a Vancouver skyline in pink and had street posts and signs reading “Equality Way” and “Human Rights Ave,” was flanked by the VPD, the fire department and the school board, to name a few. Mayor Gregor Robertson, wearing a bright rainbow-coloured T-shirt, danced atop the float. “I just feel fantastic!” city councillor Ellen Woodsworth said, smiling broadly. “It [the float] is the way we want the city to be; an ideal city to be, which is safe for the LGBTQ community.”

“It was really great to see the enthusiasm,” said Pride Society president Ken Coolen. “It’s not just about the gay and lesbian community, it’s about the families,” he added. Coolen further pointed to the social strides Pride has made, noting that a mere 40 years ago being a homosexual was a crime punishable by law.

“Within my lifetime, homosexuality has gone from criminal offense to a celebrated culture,” Coolen noted. “And it truly is a culture.”

Enjoying a shady view of the parade from a park bench near Sunset Beach, Vancouverite Kenji Chen and partner Skip Skelton of San Francisco applauded the city’s accepting outlook on queer culture. “I think Canada has a better open attitude than Americans in general,” Skelton said. He called California’s retraction of same-sex marriage rights a “disappointment.”

“In the case of Vancouver we do have a lot to be proud of,” Trans Alliance Society (TAS) chair Marie Little acknowledged. “We can have an openly gay city council, MLAs [and] Members of Parliament. We have the co-operation of police in setting up this celebration, and certainly, I can be proud of my neighbours and friends. Not a single one of them turned away when I started Trans Alliance,” she revealed.

“People ask me if I am proud to be trans — no!” she said. “I am no more proud than to have five fingers on each hand. I am just the way I am [and] everybody should be treated equally regardless of how they identify.”

At the festival, Trans Alliance collected signatures to petition the government to specifically include transgendered people as a protected category in the BC Human Rights Code.

Gay comic Darcy Michael travelled from his home in Ladner with his husband of five years to co-host the Sunset Beach festival. Participating in the Pride parade and festival was a given, Michael said.

“What the hell else you going to do?” he asked. The city shuts down [and] it’s one of the only times of the year that I get up before noon,” he joked. “[Pride] is a chance to celebrate with everybody and to remind people that we’re here, Michael asserted in an rare moment of seriousness. “It means that I have a family in this community.”

Asked what his favourite part of Pride is, Michael unhesitatingly said the wrap-up. “Going home and going, ‘What the fuck did we do?’”

For Michael, sleep is high on his list of post-Pride activities.

“No orgy, no nothing. We [Michael and husband] might shake hands at the end of the day and say goodnight” he quipped.  “It’s too hot to fuck, are you kidding me?”