3 min

Pride Society loses sponsors

Boychuk says next year's celebrations need help

Credit: Sarah Race photo

Five corporate sponsors of Vancouver Pride, including long-time supporter Air Canada, have pulled their in-kind and cash contributions for this year’s celebrations, leaving the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) claiming a $55,000 shortfall just seven-and-a-half weeks before show time.

And while VPS president John Boychuk says this year’s 11 VPS-hosted events are covered, the drop in funding means next year’s 30th anniversary celebrations “won’t have much, if anything, to celebrate with.”

“We’re changing not because we want to, we’re changing because we don’t have the support,” says Boychuk, who notes that Pride is two months away and expenses “don’t go away.”

In addition to Air Canada, which pulled its sponsorship in February, Hewlett Packard, IKEA, Wet Lubricants and CityTV have also indicated they will not be returning as sponsors.

“People expect us to go forward into the next year with some seed monies, and we don’t have any seed monies,” Boychuk says.

Asked why the VPS is only now revealing this, Boychuk says he hopes it will inspire people to “get up and to take notice, to either step forward and make an investment into Pride, to become a member, or help us out somewhere along the road.”

When it’s pointed out that the VPS press release dated May 31 indicates that Air Canada’s withdrawal was known as far back as February, Boychuk says up until June the airline was a sponsor.

“Their contract follows through until June so we couldn’t do anything until their contract was complete. As a sponsor, they didn’t go from Pride calendar year to Pride calendar year,” he explains. “They were a sponsor right up until the end of a contract date, so there was not much we could do. We didn’t want to say, ‘Hey, Air Canada is not backing us—because up until a certain point they were.”

As to whether anything else was put in place in February to offset Air Canada’s anticipated pullout, Boychuk says the airline’s contribution was an in-kind one, translating into air miles that go towards outreach programs that facilitate visits to other cities, as well as bringing “people to us.” It wasn’t a cash sponsorship, he explains.

Last year, Air Canada’s in-kind contribution amounted to $25,000 worth of air dollars. The amount has been declining over the past three years, admits Boychuk, but to lose it all now is a bit of a shock.

Vancouver is not the only city that will have to do without Air Canada’s air dollars.

According to Boychuk, the airline cut its funding across the board for all LGBT organizations affiliated with Pride. “So there are no dollars there at all for Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, for anybody.

“It’s funny, you know, in February they said, yes, it did look like they were going to go forward, and in March, they gave confirmation that ‘no, we weren’t going to go forward,'” says Boychuk. “And then a couple of weeks later they announce a $25-million cash investment over five years into the Olympics.”

Air Canada spokesperson Isabelle Arthur says while the airline has been a strong supporter of Pride for many years, with the end of the contract and a budget review, the decision was made to discontinue sponsorship.

Asked why allocations for Pride were specifically targeted, Arthur points out that Air Canada is discontinuing sponsorships of several different events at different levels because it has less money to allocate overall.

Former VPS director Shawn Ewing believes Air Canada is now aiming more of its sponsorship towards the 2010 Olympics, and has ceased sponsoring non-profit and smaller-scale projects toward that end.

“So I think that’s not a reflection of the [VPS] itself. It might be a reflection of sponsorship priorities. Maybe they feel they didn’t get bang for their buck.”

Still, says Ewing, “I don’t know how IKEA couldn’t get bang for their buck at a gay event. I think we probably keep their stores going.”

Xtra West’s attempts to ask IKEA why it pulled its sponsorship were unsuccessful by press time. Hewlett Packard, Wet Lubricants and CityTV could not be reached either.

“If sponsors are pulling out and they are pulling out for whatever reason, let’s find out what it is,” says Ewing. “And let’s be honest about it.”

She points out that the VPS’ most recent financial statement, presented in March to the society’s membership, showed a surplus of $28,000, and made no mention of losing sponsors. She says she finds it “frightening” to now hear, all of a sudden, that there is “a fear that we’re not going to have Pride. It strikes fear into the heart of the community,” she claims.

VPS sponsorship coordinator Caryl Dolinko says unless more money and in-kind donations can be injected into the VPS’ coffers, there might just be a parade or a smaller version of Pride next year.

“Right now, we don’t have an outreach program, so we won’t be able to plan anything or any travel to any Prides for next year.

“We’re on track for this year,” she continues. “This is not going to affect us directly for this year. It’s next year we’re really going to have to think about,” she clarifies.

“And even in terms of volunteers,” she continues, “the city has put some pressure on us to supply 200 volunteers for the Pride parade. If we fall short of that, we might not even get a permit for the parade next year,” she claims.

“We’re looking for volunteers, we’re looking for sponsors, we’re looking for the community to step up and help out.”