Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) president Shawn Ewing says she’s going to step down at the VPS’s annual general meeting tentatively scheduled for Oct 22. Ewing says some board members are still considering their options, but that at least half of them will also step down this year.
“There are going to be a number of opportunities for placement on the board, particularly for women” says Ewing. “I hope women don’t shy away from the Pride board.”
Once elected, VPS presidents can hold their seats for as long as three consecutive years. Although this is Ewing’s third year as VPS president, she says she could have stayed on for another year because she was interim president during her first year.
She cites several reasons for her decision to leave including a reconnection with her partner and a desire for more personal time. She says she’s devoted virtually all of her vacation time from her day job over the last three years to VPS business.
She plans to be available to the new board in the future if she can be of any help. She also plans to explore the possibility of volunteering with InterPride, an international association of Pride organizers.
“It’s been hugely positive,” she says. “The people that I’ve had a chance to meet in the last four years have been amazing. It’s not the big stars or high rollers. It’s the people in the small organizations that made it so great. It’s watching the queer families grow over the four years I’ve been involved.”
“There’s a personal satisfaction,” she continues, “but that’s not why I do it. There’s a feeling that you’re actually having a positive influence on something for more than yourself.”
Ewing says giving your time is the most critical part of community participation.
“Volunteering is my vote,” she says. “It’s my part of saying ‘this is how I can help to make this good and positive’.”
This year was, however, a tumultuous one for the VPS and Ewing says the community politics does sometimes come with heavy personal costs.
“A small part of the motivation for me to retire a year early,” she says, “is that the hurtful end has taken its toll. It’s energy draining. It’s hard to get up and get motivated when everybody thinks you’re doing it wrong or they could do it better. There’s a point where you could say ‘fuck it. Just fuck it. You think you can do it so goddamn well, just do it yourself’.
“There’s been no assumption of perfection or that we’re doing it right,” says Ewing. “We’re just doing the best we can with what we’ve got here and the time that’s available and the number of people that are available.”
On Mar 21, the VPS announced a plan that would have moved the parade away from its traditional West End route down Denman St and along the water to the festival site at Sunset Beach. The proposal would have had the parade run along Pacific Ave to a festival held at the Plaza of Nations.
Ewing told Xtra West in March that the move would relieve crowding along the parade route and would allow for better coordination of the parade staging area. She said a festival at the Plaza of Nations would allow for shelter in case of rain, access to a pre-existing stage for entertainment, beer garden facilities, SkyTrain access, and better wheelchair accessibility.
When the proposal was announced in late March, the move would have left the VPS with a $12,000 shortfall, but Ewing was confident the money could have been raised through corporate sponsorships in time to cover the costs of the celebration at the end of July.
Many in the queer community reacted with outrage to the plan. There were feelings that the community hadn’t been adequately consulted over the move, that the VPS had taken too long to submit their proposal to the city, and that moving the celebration would fly in the face of 27 years of tradition.
After a tense community meeting and meetings with city officials, the VPS announced that the parade route and festival site would not change in 2005.
Ewing and the VPS faced some very hash criticism over this plan and some members of the community, in their outrage, resorted to personal attacks.
What advice would Ewing give to the next VPS president?
“For anybody in any higher profile volunteer position, it’s really hard to be who you are,” says Ewing. “You become a role. It’s not necessarily bad, but set boundaries. For me it’s boundaries between my personal life and my volunteer life.”
She also advises the next VPS president to “be open, and to continue being responsible to the community and the organization.”
What advice would Ewing offer to the rest of the community about the best way to influence their community groups and organizations?
“If you have an idea and something to share,” she says, “then you need to share it, but be respectful of the fact that we’re all working towards a common goal.”
She also suggests people get out and volunteer in any capacity they can.
As for the current state of the VPS, this year’s Pride Week was a great success. Ewing estimates about 200,000 people alone attended the parade.
Both the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Police Department say there were no significant issues that need to be addressed immediately. The issues that did arise have to do only with garbage and some over-crowding in the parade staging area.
Although the final financial numbers won’t be ready until later this fall, Ewing says the VPS is in good shape financially.
“At the end of fiscal Sep 30,” she says, “all outstanding debts will be paid and we will go into next fiscal in a surplus situation. That’s another exciting part because it opens doors for things the Pride Society can do, and be, and have.”
Ewing says the VPS has also hired an independent auditor to examine the VPS’s books. She says an audit is a simple and basic precaution any organization that handles large sums of community money ought to undergo.