3 min

Power of the individual

The real meaning of Pride festival

Credit: Xtra West files

One of the Vancouver Pride Society’s challenges is to significantly re-involve the community in Pride. Experience (mostly bad) has made me a firm believer in the pragmatic “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” and “if it is broken, understand how it broke before attempting to fix it” school of thought.

So, I needed to understand how this rift occurred. Some reasons are so obvious that the headache doesn’t come from thinking too long and too hard coming up with ideas-it comes from running headlong into the obvious, concrete reasons. For example, doesn’t it just make sense that for a community to remain active and involved with Pride, the VPS needs to actively and regularly promote membership in the Society?

While this hasn’t happened in the past, it is now. And, if you already haven’t been accosted, oops, I mean approached, by someone asking you to join the Society for a mere $10, have no fear-you will be.

Keeping our community informed about Pride and Pride events is another necessary precursor to getting and keeping people involved. People can’t get involved with something they don’t know exists, why it exists or how they can help. We are actively addressing this as well. For example, you may have noticed Pride featured with increasing regularity in Xtra West.

While the VPS perhaps paved the way for the drift by lack of attention to membership and communicating with the community, it didn’t make sense that this was the full answer. So, for the past while, I have been talking with people about Pride and asking a lot of questions. And, I think I have a better handle on how our community drifted along the path paved by the VPS.

In a nutshell, Pride is becoming like Christmas. Just as the ‘what and why’ of the celebration of Christmas is obscured to varying degrees by commercialism and the glitz and glitter and hustle and bustle of the season, so too is the real meaning of Pride becoming increasingly obscured.

If “What is Pride and why do we celebrate Pride” were a question on Family Feud, the top answer in the survey is: “to celebrate our community and its political-legal advances in fighting discrimination and ensuring equality”-with Little Sister’s ongoing fight with Canada Customs the most frequently provided example. Judging by the answers people gave to my questions, Pride appears to be a celebration about the big, headline grabbing social changes. It is about celebrating strengthened community.

I don’t think anyone could reasonably argue that such things are not part of celebrating Pride. They are. But they are only one part of it. And, at the risk of sounding somewhat heretical, I’ll venture to suggest they are not even the most important part. The simple fact that we can legally, and with increasing acceptance, gather in our streets to celebrate as a gay community began with one pissed-off drag queen sparking the famous Stonewall riots by throwing her high heel through a bar window.

This is the most important thing we celebrate at Pride-the power of the individual to create change, to create community.

Ultimately, then, Pride is about you. It is about the fact that you came out to family and friends to whatever degree. It is about the fact that you took the risk. It is a time to reflect and feel proud of all the things, big or small, you do or have done that ultimately help create, sustain or enhance community. The small actions of the many pave the way and open doors for the few to act to bring about the big legal and legislative changes.

And, of course, Pride is the time to celebrate your contributions by partying your ass off and socializing with others celebrating the same thing. When we come together to celebrate our own and other’s Pride, something remarkable happens: community strengthens. And everyone ultimately benefits from a strong, healthy community.

We perpetually hear people advising caution about Pride becoming too big, too commercial, too far removed from the Society’s grassroots reason for existence. The fear is this will occur by Pride selling its soul for corporate sponsorship. Yet, the VPS has had comparatively little corporate sponsorship and yet the personal meaning of Pride has eroded anyway.

It seems the problem isn’t so much about adding to Pride and making it bigger, it is in neglecting to continually affirm its roots.

To help close the gap between Pride and our community, we are working on a mini-series of articles that chronicles Pride in Vancouver. We are talking with people about life before Pride, and we are talking with some of those who were instrumental in laying down the initial building blocks of Pride. I challenge each of you to take the time to read these articles and then reflect and enumerate all the things you do or have done that in some way-no matter how small-contributes to community. When you do so, Pride becomes more personal, more meaningful.

And, this more than anything, closes the distance.