Vancouver
4 min

Pride route change sparks uproar

Piersdorff resigns in concern

TIME FOR A CHANGE? Vancouver Pride Society president Shawn Ewing (centre), with Lee Casey (left) and Karen Neufeld (right), says the gay community has outgrown the old Pride Parade route and needs a new one. Spectators were stacked 12-deep in some places at last year's parade, she says, adding that the new route to the Plaza of Nations will be more suitable. Others disagree vehemently. VPS treasurer Barry Piersdorff resigned over the proposed move. Credit: Matt Mills

The Vancouver Pride Society (vps) announced Mar 21 a plan that will take the 2005 Pride Parade and festival out of the west end for the first time in its 27-year history.

Under the VPS’ proposal, the parade would start at the corner of Granville St and Pacific Blvd and move east along Pacific to the Plaza of Nations where the festival would be held.

The city still needs to approve the plan; the motion is scheduled to come before council Mar 31.

VPS treasurer Barry Piersdorff, who was instrumental in pulling the VPS out of its $107,000 debt two years ago, is concerned that the proposed changes could lead to a financial loss for the society. He has left the VPS board as a result.

VPS president Shawn Ewing says the traditional parade route down Denman St and Beach Ave has become too small for the event. Spectators were stacked 12-deep in some places at last year’s parade, she says, adding that the new route will allow more people a better view of the celebration.

Last year’s parade drew an estimated 160,000 people, while the festival attendance was estimated at about 50,000. The VPS says that represents at least a 25 percent increase in attendance over the last four years.

The Plaza of Nations is a more suitable venue for the festival than Sunset Beach, Ewing says, because it offers wheelchair access, a covered area for protection from rain and sun, an existing stage, ample parking, easy SkyTrain access, longer hours and a ready-made festival beer garden.

As with any change to Pride, it’s a controversial move and has already led to outrage among some. Many community members are concerned there wasn’t more public consultation and input into the decision.

Says queer activist Jamie Lee Hamilton: “This parade starts nowhere, goes nowhere and ends up nowhere.”

She’s disappointed the move would bypass the site of the AIDS candlelight vigil at Alexandra Park and the new AIDS Memorial at Sunset Beach. She’s also concerned that moving the celebration out of the West End could compromise the safety and security of the attendees.

And she echoes community members who feel the community wasn’t adequately consulted on the move.

Ewing says the proposed changes are a result of feedback the board received at a Nov 20 meeting. Xtra West reported on Nov 25 that there would be an additional VPS meeting held in January to further explore the possibility of changes to the parade route and festival location. Ewing says although there was some talk of further discussion at the Nov 20 meeting, the board didn’t promise a January meeting and a date wasn’t set for one.

She says the VPS needed to move quickly and decisively to submit its proposal and business plan to meet the Mar 31 deadline set by the city, and selected the Plaza of Nations option as the best choice.

According to Piersdorff, there were 1,190 notices issued by mail to current and past VPS members to attend the Nov 20 meeting. Piersdorff says only 25 people attended that meeting, including about 11 board members and one Xtra West reporter. That’s a community turnout of about 0.1 percent.

“People put their lives on the line to create a celebration for the community,” Ewing says. “There are opportunities every year for people to do that. And we still don’t have a full board. At the end of the day, we only had 11 people.

“We asked for community consultation and that’s all we got.”

Among those who did show up to the November meeting, Ewing says “the consensus was that Sunset Beach was old and tired, and that people wanted a beer garden.”

Hamilton is encouraging those who object to the VPS’ proposal to contact city councillors Tim Stevenson and Ellen Woodsworth.

Stevenson says he has already received a great deal of reaction from the community. He says the overwhelming trend is that people don’t feel they were consulted adequately.

He is concerned the community will not present a united front to council when the motion comes up for discussion on Mar 31. He hopes the community can arrive at some agreement before then, or city council could potentially wind up arbitrating a dispute among opposing factions in the queer community.

What impact would the Plaza of Nations proposal have on the VPS’ finances?

In the last two years, the VPS has struggled successfully to mount the annual Pride celebrations and retire a huge $107,000 debt. Now, the VPS is operating debt-free and has even managed to build a small contingency fund.

Ewing says although the budget for the Plaza of Nations proposal falls short of covering all the expenses for the Pride Parade and festival, she’s confident the projected $12,000 shortfall will easily be made up by corporate sponsorship money. She says no corporate sponsorship revenue was included in the budget proposal and there are already a number of sponsors lined up.

Piersdorff, who resigned from the VPS board Mar 15 over the proposed move, says sponsorship money is unpredictable.

He’s concerned the VPS hasn’t thought through the management arrangements for the proposed beer garden, and that the crowd won’t stay for the entire eight-hour festival, which is supposed to run from 2-10 pm.

He’s also concerned that the VPS has lost sight of the community it’s supposed to be serving.

All these factors, says Piersdorff, could result in a financial loss for the VPS.

Lyn Hellyar, coordinator of the Davie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA), is more concerned for the welfare of the businesses along Davie.

“If the VPS doesn’t do anything in the Davie Village during Pride, then the BIA will have to organize something,” she says. She’s concerned the businesses along Denman and Davie won’t benefit as much from the Pride crowds if the celebration moves out of the West End.

Ewing says “people are going to visit the gay businesses regardless of where in the city the festival is held.

“When queer people come to Vancouver they visit the Davie Village because it’s one of the homes of the gay community,” she says. “That won’t change.”

The Pride Parade and festival are scheduled to take place Sun, Jul 31.