Local drag legend Joan-E, recently retired MP Bill Siksay, late AIDS pioneer Bob Tivey and American gay activist Pat Rocco will be honoured this summer as Pride parade grand marshals in Vancouver.
The 2011 Pride theme is Celebrate, says Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) president Ken Coolen, and “this year we celebrate people who have done great work. There were some tough choices; we got some really good nominees.”
Coolen says each year the grand marshals are chosen from a list of nominees recommended by the community. “First and foremost we look at what they’ve done,” he explains, adding the VPS also examines how well the nominees embody the theme and whether they’ll be available to attend Pride.
Each year the list of nominees for grand marshal grows, he notes. This year he says the VPS received approximately two dozen names to consider. Although the annual selection process is no easy feat, Coolen says he’s pleased with this year’s honorees.
“This is definitely a big deal for me to be a Pride marshal in Vancouver. It’s quite an honour to be chosen,” says Siksay, who served as grand marshal of the Windsor, Ontario, parade a few years ago but has never served locally.
In May 2009 Siksay reintroduced a private member’s bill to the House of Commons to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. The bill was passed in December 2010 but died in the Senate when the election was called.
“He’s done some amazing work in the progress of human rights for trans people,” Coolen says.
Asked how it feels to be recognized for his efforts in queer rights, Siksay says, “Trans people are some of the bravest people I have ever met in my life. They are the ones that inspired me in regard to the need for change in the Human Rights law.”
Pat Rocco was instrumental in organizing the first Pride parade in Hollywood in 1970. He also helped launch the first Pride festival to coincide with the parade in 1974. He is a filmmaker and singer.
“I love the title of international role model,” he says, of his local grand marshal status. “I’ve never had that title before.”
“Out of all the [Vancouver grand marshal categories] the one I like least is the posthumous one,” he laughs. “But I suppose I will get there eventually.”
Rocco is 77. He is humble about his involvement in gay activism. He remembers the police chief and mayor refusing to give them a permit for the first parade. But organizers refused to back down and eventually won. “It was something that needed to be done and had to be done,” he says.
“Pat Rocco is a part of our history,” said Coolen. “He was one of the founding fathers of Christopher Street West, aka LA Pride.”
Tivey was “the right man, the right time and exactly the right message,” Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva told Xtra in March after the AIDS pioneer died of cancer. “No one knew what AIDS was, and he put a face to it. What he did was bold and brave. He was remarkably human and caring. I will adore him forever.”
On the VPS website, which says Joan-E is being honoured for her unwavering activism in the queer community, she comments on the powerful impact Pride has had on her throughout the years. “In 1990, during the Gay Games, I attended my first Vancouver Pride parade. Upon seeing the crowds, I was not alone. I learned, after watching PFLAG walk by, we have loving and supportive straight allies. Then, when I watched politicians, organizations and businesses participate, I discovered that we had power. In 1990, I knew three people in Vancouver’s LGBT community and stood anonymously amongst the crowds. All these years later, during another Gay Games and Vancouver Pride, I have the honour of being a parade grand marshal.
“Today I know something else: there is a role, a place and a home for anyone who wishes to be a member of the family in this fabulous Vancouver community,” Joan-E writes.
“There are some amazing people in our LGBTTQ community,” Coolen says. “I hope somehow, someday, everyone will be acknowledged for the work they do.”