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Pride and the Outgames kick off

Mayor proclaims Pride and Outgames week in Vancouver

City officials, queers andallies gathered at city hall on July 25 to officially kick off Pride Week and the 2011 North American Outgames in Vancouver.

“I am extraordinarily proud that Vancouver is a city where gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, two-spirited and queer communities are such an active and highly visible part of our community,” Mayor Gregor Robinson declared.

“There’s no doubt that Pride is always one of the biggest and most important [events] of our summer,” he said. “What a thrill this year to be hosting the 2011 Outgames in Vancouver as well. It’s a great complement to Pride Week.”

“This is our year to celebrate and we have so much to celebrate,” Ken Coolen, president of the Vancouver Pride Society, told attendees. “We’ve come a long way. We can adopt children, we can get married, we serve openly in the military, we’re protected as part of the human rights code. These are things that we have come to take a bit for granted.

“It’s a bit of a catch 22 because as we celebrate where we’ve come from we need to also remember where we are going,” he continued, noting, for example, that transgendered people are still not legally protected from discrimination.

“We have to continue to broaden who is in our organizations and who [is] making decisions around initiatives that we’re moving forward on,” suggested Fatima Jaffer, who sits on the city’s queer advisory committee. “We all have to celebrate. But we’ve got to look constantly at who’s not at the table.”

“With the theme Educate, Liberate and Celebrate, we’ve got to educate ourselves on what it takes to be a liberation movement that’s expansive and that makes room for all of us to celebrate — and not just with words but with actions,” Jaffer urged the gathering.

“We do need to stand up against hate and homophobia and racism and sexism and make sure this city really goes forward in its diversity and inclusiveness,” agreed lesbian city councillor Ellen Woodsworth.

“We still need to protect each other and protect our queer spaces,” said Jennifer Breakspear, executive director of Qmunity, BC’s queer resource centre. “I want to applaud the mayor and council and city staff and the LGBTTQQ advisory committee for making city hall a queer space,” she added.

In the coming weeks, this city will see many queer spaces, with Pride, the Outgames, the Queer Arts Festival, the Queer Film Festival and more, Breakspear noted — spaces “where we can come together, cheer each other on and shore each other up.”

“This community we have is an incredible community, not just in Vancouver but around the world,” said gay city councillor Tim Stevenson.

Stevenson applauds Pride and the Outgames and the public message they send. “Anything, in my mind, that helps to bring our community together and to make our community more visible to the larger community, we want to encourage,” he said.

Vancouver Outgames chair John Boychuk thanked the mayor and council for inviting the queer community into council chambers and for “taking another step forward” in recognizing the community’s place in this city.

Sonya Jaquez Lewis, co-chair of Denver, Colorado’s 2015 Outgames committee, also attended the launch and asked local organizers for advice.

Success comes through “community building,” Breakspear suggested. “It’s about building these allegiances and connecting community together toward the common goal.”

Following the discussion in council chambers, the group reconvened on the steps of city hall, where the mayor read the official Pride proclamation.

“I, Gregor Robertson, do hereby proclaim July 25 to 31 as Pride Week in the City of Vancouver,” he declared with obvious enthusiasm.

As the first three Outgames runners sprinted down the steps to begin the flag relay (which ended several hours later with the cauldron lighting at the Vancouver Art Gallery), staff briefly flew the Outgames flag above city hall.It was then replaced by the rainbow flag, which will remain throughout the week.

“We should never take this flag for granted,” Coolen told the crowd. “People around the world see this flag and they know they’re home and they know they’re safe.”

Now, as the flag flies above city hall, “we Vancouverites know we’re home and we know we’re safe,” he said.