3 min

Pride on the Drive

Eastside celebration has a real community feel

Credit: Sarah Race photo

“I think it’s great.”

Vancouver East MP Libby Davies is beaming. She’s one of the first on the scene at Grandview Park for Jun 30’s East Side Pride celebrations, having walked the dozen or so blocks from her home to get there.

Eastside residents and politicians alike have gathered to celebrate Pride Commercial Dr-style, enjoy the entertainment and reflect on the impact the event has on gay culture and on the straight community around them.

It’s about community building, Davies says, “and the queer community has always done that well. It’s about celebrating the diversity of our community.”

Davies points to the large number of queer people who live on the eastside. Holding the event on Commercial Dr means a lot of queers can celebrate their Pride “and people are literally at home.”

Ellen Woodsworth has lived on the eastside for 27 years. She says queers live here generally “because we can afford it,” and sometimes, she says, “we feel left out with the focus on Davie St.”

For Woodsworth, holding Pride celebrations outside of the West End “acknowledges and builds community on the eastside, and makes it safer for people. It puts a face to the community for people who live here and don’t go to the West End.”

She believes it’s important that Vancouver residents realize the queer community is much broader than just Davie St.

West End residents Ken Renneberg and his partner make the effort to attend Pride celebrations in areas of the city other than where they live. “There’s a different energy this side of town,” he says.

“This has a different feel for me, more of a sense of community” than the much larger West End Pride events, he explains. “It’s a celebration on a smaller scale. People are so friendly here. There is a definite community spirit.”

East Side Pride “doesn’t compete with the West End Pride celebrations,” Renneberg continues, “it adds another dimension to it. Holding it on the eastside is essential,” he adds, “because we’re everywhere.”

Renneberg observes the event is “pleasantly integrated with other things that usually go on here.” Regularly scheduled park activities take place alongside the hundreds celebrating East Side Pride. A bicycle polo match is in full swing on the tennis courts, a group of 20-somethings have a picnic nearby and parents push their children on the swings in the playground area.

East Side Pride is “more laid-back and on a smaller scale” than West End celebrations, agrees David Myers, who has lived in the neighbourhood since 1979. “It’s got a lot of local flavour,” he smiles, “and it’s nice to have something I can walk to.”

Myers would like to see a booth commemorating Stonewall to highlight the work of the older generations who fought for the equality that queers enjoy today. He thinks it’s important to educate young queers that human rights shouldn’t be taken for granted.

“Connecting now to the past is really important,” Myers says. “If it wasn’t for the queens and leather people at Stonewall, if we hadn’t done what we did, together, in the work on our human rights, when AIDS came along, the homophobes would have ground us into the dirt. Human rights is like housework, you have to keep running just to stay in place.”

“We made a commitment four years ago to do something on the eastside as part of our commitment to East Side Pride,” says John Boychuk, president of the Vancouver Pride Society. The event was first resurrected as the Drive’s old Stonewall festival, then renamed East Side Pride.

“We are a diverse community,” Boychuk continues. “The eastside is part of our community. We want to expose queer culture to visitors to The Drive as well as to the people who live here.

“This is the kick-off to the Pride season,” he adds.

Vivian von Brokenhymen, event co-host and Imperial Crown Princess XXVII, has many performances under her belt but privately admits she was a little nervous about how well received a drag performance was going to be in a public park on the eastside of town. “They’ve responded to it well,” she smiles. “I feel welcomed with open arms. It’s a great vibe here. People are having a good time.”

Though she’s usually associated with the West End, Brokenhymen reveals she’s an Eastsider herself. “I live in the Mount Pleasant area,” she giggles.

Queer activist Elaine Miller has lived on the eastside for 15 years and loves having a Pride celebration “closer to the homes of so many queer people.”

With housing prices skyrocketing in the West End, Miller foresees the decentralization of the current gay village and a time, perhaps, when the centre of the queer community shifts east. “Ten years from now, we may be going to Main St for Gay Pride,” she predicts.