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3 min

Remember Celebration ’90?

'It was like Pride times 50'

As Vancouver prepped to welcome the world’s gay athletes to Celebration ’90, Ron Dutton kept his eyes peeled for an anti-gay backlash.

“I was looking hard to see whether we were going to be demonized by churches or the medical establishment or rightwing politicians or whoever could use this event to leverage their own notoriety,? recalls Dutton, who runs BC’s gay and lesbian archives.

Against a backdrop of AIDS hysteria and gay civil rights battles, two full-page ads ran in The Vancouver Sun and The Province three weeks before the Gay Games.

“This rightwing fundamentalist church that nobody had ever heard of was warning of a sodomite invasion, and God?s punishment on Vancouver for doing this is just going to be awful and demanding that they stop it,” Dutton breathlessly recounts.

“I thought, ‘Oh shit, here it comes.'”

But Dutton says the response was swift and “delicious.”

“The heads of pretty much all of the Christian congregations ? the United Church, the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church ? wrote letters in to The Sun and Province disassociating themselves from this hateful piece of writing ? and that killed it,” Dutton says, gleefully.

There was the “crazy lady with a sign about Jesus, picketing up and down” outside the opening ceremonies at BC Place, he notes, but everybody laughed at her and “kept streaming in.”

During the week of the Games, Vancouver never put on a better face, he says with obvious pride.

“The street was filled with beautiful young men and women holding hands and sitting in restaurants, astounded at this place and how open it was to them being there and being themselves, when they often came from parts of the world where in 1990 that was simply not the case,” Dutton recalls.

“Everywhere you went, it was like Pride times 50, because it was drawn over a longer period of time, and we were working up to Pride,” James Loewen, one of the Games’ official photographers, remembers.

He particularly recalls an all?women’s event he covered at the Orpheum. “There were only three or four men in the building, and there was just an electricity; the din in the crowd was of women’s voices,” Loewen says. “Some women were looking at me, thinking, ‘Oh, you broke the spell. What’s a guy doing here?’ Others were looking at me just full of twinkle, like ‘Wow, there’s a guy here,’ and I’m sharing in this.

“I’m imagining that ? for all of them ? none of them had had that experience of being together in that volume, with that level of excitement,” he muses. “To do that as gay and lesbian people, that was something else, and it was so powerful. And that went on for a week, every single day.”

Like Dutton, Loewen can also point to a couple of incidents that threatened but failed to mar the gay spirit that descended on the city.

He still has photos of the “Die fags” and “Go back home” graffiti spray?painted on the West End Community Centre just prior to the opening of registration. He also remembers a man who yelled homophobic slurs at two men holding hands on Davie St but who was forced to apologize by the thick crowd that quickly gathered around him.

The minimal backlash and its instant rebuke showed Vancouver’s gay community it could break into mainstream culture and become a political force to be reckoned with, Dutton says.

Moreover, the Gay Games pulled the community’s often disparate people together, where before there wasn’t a core feeling about having an identity as part of a community, he says.

Post?Celebration ’90, there was a greater sense of people “being part of something bigger than themselves, that we are a people,” Dutton says. And that feeling “has persisted.”

“Of course, people are going to fall back into their [lives],” he acknowledges. “There’s still poor people and rich people; there’s still east side and west side; there’s still men and women.”

But after the Games, the various community members and groups “began to do a lot more sharing,” he says.
“There just was this sense of: “We are a tribe.'”

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Funding trickling in

Vancouver’s 2011 North America Outgames received a funding boost on Feb 17 when the park board officially signed off on its $100,000 Sport Hosting Grant.

Outgames president John Boychuk says the money will be disbursed in installments in the lead-up to the July 25 to 31 Games.

The Outgames also applied but was rejected for a Vancouver 125th Anniversary Grant. The $100,000 request was denied because it was considered too large, and other applicants better met the program?s criteria, the city?s director of grants told Xtra last month.

The Outgames submitted a scaled-back request to the program, which is considering a second round of applications until the end of February. Boychuk says they?re now asking for about $33,000, a third of the original ask. ?We don?t hear back until after Feb 28,? he adds.

As for the Outgames’ eligibility for BC’s 2010 Sports and Arts Legacy Fund, Boychuk says organizers are scheduled to meet the minister on March 7. “They were quite encouraged by our business proposal, and they’ll be looking specifically for funding towards the human rights conference at this point,” he says.

In a Jan 20 email, a spokesperson for the ministry said the Outgames’ request is “now under consideration.”