Pride week wrapped up Aug 6 with a massive Pride Parade drawing a record 300,000-person estimated turnout.
“Last year’s turnout was 185,000,” says VPS President John Boychuk. “We were expecting 200,000, the typical 10 percent increase. To have such a large increase over one year–over 115,000 people–makes it the largest increase in Pride attendance in North America.”
The parade also boasted 134 floats, 10 more than last year. That growth in participation is particularly noteworthy, says Boychuk, because Vancouver Pride happened at the same time as the Montreal Outgames, which lured away many of the local sports teams that traditionally round-out the parade entries.
“We actually thought we were going to be down [on the number of floats], considering the Montreal Outgames, but we worked to bring in community organizations from the valley and more local businesses,” he says.
Boychuk also notes that participation from political parties was down this year and speculates that it’s because there are no upcoming elections while last year there were elections for all three levels of government.
This year Vancouver-Centre MP and Liberal leadership candidate Hedy Fry, decked-out as a flapper, marched in front of a float carrying a half-dozen underwear-clad dancers and a man riding a mechanical bull. Federal NDP leader Jack Layton, Vancouver East MP Libby Davies and Burnaby-Douglas MP Bill Siksay comprised part of a robust NDP turnout.
Vancouver-Burrard Liberal MLA Lorne Mayencourt rode alone in the back of a snazzy convertible.
Several members of the Green Party, the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE), and the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) also marched in the parade.
The federal Conservative party did have a car in the parade, but no major government figures participated in Pride festivities despite Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s presence in the region. Harper spent part of the afternoon on Pride Day in Surrey at the Indo-Canadian Gadri Babiyian Da Mela Festival in Bear Creek.
Boychuk says although the PM and the Conservative Party are always welcome to participate in Pride, he understood their reluctance to do so.
“I think that based on the current political environment, there would be considerations in participating in any event and the amount of security involved,” he says. “He would have been welcome as a friend and ally of the community, but he chose to be at another event.
“It would have put into question a lot of statements he has made over the past year,” continues Boychuk. “It would have been interesting to see him there, but it didn’t happen.”
Harper also failed to attend the opening ceremonies of the International AIDS Conference in Toronto Aug 14. The Prime Minister’s Office did not return Xtra West’s calls before press time.
Participation by the Prime Minister may have elicited more jeers than cheers from attendees and partiers, as criticism of the Conservatives was a theme in the parade.
One float, labelled “Brokeback Mountain–Harper and Bush,” depicted a cowboy hat-wearing George W Bush holding the strings of a Stephen Harper marionette. The statue was later placed on display at the festival site at Sunset Beach.
Joan-E, who emceed the parade from Denman St and Beach Ave, on seeing Fry and Layton round the corner announced to the crowd, “Mr. Harper, you’re not rolling us back!”
Fry, who has participated in the parade every year since she was first elected in 1992, echoed the sentiment. “This community needs our support so Stephen Harper knows he can’t roll back our rights, and to move forward for the last community that needs our help, the transgender community,” she said.
Vancouver Police Chief Constable Jamie Graham marched with a small contingent of uniformed officers and Vance Campbell, co-owner of Davie St gay bars Sugar Daddy’s and The Oasis.
Mayor Sam Sullivan missed the parade because he was hiking in the Rocky Mountains but did attend Homopalooza, another VPS event, Jul 30.
The VPS is hoping to convince Vancouver City Council to designate next year’s Pride Parade as a civic event. That designation would save the VPS some of the costs for policing, sanitation and other city services.
“Back in the fall we approached several councillors and asked them if they would consider [granting civic event status],” says Boychuk. “They said they had to be educated about what the Pride Society is and what we do, what events we provide, what community we serve, what the economic impact is on the region, and why we should be considered for civic event status.
“We will be working this September to put in an application and presentation to City Hall,” he added.
Pride Toronto and Divers/Cité Montreal each receive substantial grants and service support for their Pride Parades. The VPS receives no provincial funding, but this year did receive a $7,500 grant from the city. Regardless, Boychuk is confident Vancouver Pride did not lose money this year, although the final figures aren’t yet available.
“At this point we are looking at continuing to be in the black for the balance of 2006,” he says.
One challenge the VPS faces every year is recruiting and training volunteers to help run the festivities. Only about 100 volunteers ran the entire Pride Parade. Boychuk praised the efforts of VPS volunteer director Susan Burzynski.
“She did an excellent job of recruitment and training, but having only 100 volunteers to take care of 300,000 people is very difficult,” he says.
First-time volunteer Spencer Plaitin, who was a stage and sound technician for the festival, emphasised the rewards of volunteering.
“I did it mainly to help out, make connections and get experience doing that kind of work,” he says. “It was a very fulfilling experience and I felt honoured to be a part of it. It was a good way to spend my first Vancouver Pride.”