Organizers of Salt Spring Island’s Pride festival hope that community and not vandalism is the focus of this year’s event, which runs Sept 5 to 7.
Last year’s festival was targeted by vandals who torched one of the community’s Pride flags and wrote “this is ugly stuff” on two of their posters. Local LGBT allies, however, used the remains of the burned flag to create a new banner that depicted a rainbow-clad phoenix rising from the ashes. Deirdre Rowland, a board member of Gays and Lesbians of Salt Spring Island (GLOSSI), tells Xtra that police investigated the incident but no arrests were made and no new information is available.
“This year what we’ve done to try and mitigate something of that nature is create a poster that reflects the community back to itself,” says Rowland, who has been named a parade grand marshal. “The poster contains images of LGBTQ people in our community to show that we are real people and here are our faces. We are celebrating Pride not only in our own queer community, but with the broader community as well. We want to reflect our community back to itself on our 10th anniversary. I think that will give people a sense of who we are as a group.”
Rowland says Pride posters will be up only during the week of Pride itself.
“Last year, the Pride stuff was up for a long time prior to the Pride period, and it bent some people out of shape and led to that situation,” she suggests. “But it has more to do with respecting that we are one of many community groups and want to make sure that everyone has their time in the spotlight on the island. People are working hard to put on great events, and we all support one another in that.”
Rowland notes that people who might oppose Pride are in the minority and that a larger percentage of participants are LGBT allies. “From the beginning, we would walk with our allies, and they became an integral part of our events,” she says. “The local MLA and MP take part, and we have straight allies on our Pride committee. With our event you are looking at the people and connecting with them in real time. It’s an experience of people experiencing joy and happiness together.”
The event, BC’s third largest Pride parade, winds through the main streets in the community of Ganges.
“As a board, we voted a number of years ago that we won’t have any motorized vehicles because it takes the focus away from people,” GLOSSI president Bill Turner says. “They walk, dance, sing, chant, drum, skate, and they all dress up in the most fantastical outfits. It’s just brilliant to see.”
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich–Gulf Islands, who regularly attends a number of Pride parades, counts Salt Spring Pride as her favourite. “There is a lot of corporate engagement in the Pride parades in Toronto and Vancouver,” May says. “You see a lot of banks and pop companies and all kinds of multinational logos that present themselves at Pride. The most authentic grassroots community-guided parade is Salt Spring. It has a population of roughly 10,000 people, and I think it has the highest per capita participation rate of any Pride parade. It seems like half the community is in the parade and the other half is cheering them on.”