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Saint John’s Port City Rainbow Pride comes back to life

Committee returns after sudden cancellation last year

PCRP, which organized May's Rainbow Peace March Against Homophobia (pictured), managed to keep this year's Pride festival on the summer schedule, even though volunteer numbers haven't increased. Credit: Nick Logan photo

Saint John has 225 years of history to celebrate in 2010 as Canada’s oldest incorporated city, and the local Pride committee has jumped on that bandwagon with its nine-day festival, marking “225 Years of Diversity.”

But the fact that Port City Rainbow Pride (PCRP) is hosting Pride events at all is something to cheer about. The committee took “a hiatus” in 2009, cancelling Pride Week a little more than a month before the rainbow flag was due to be raised.

Mack MacKenzie, spokesperson and chair of the committee, says the break was meant to give organizers time to refresh and revamp the festival and, above all, drum up community support. He cited “volunteer burnout” as the main reason for cancellation when he spoke with Xtra last summer.

Staff from the former Elements nightclub managed to rally a small crew of people to pull off a week-long Pride, in PCRP’s absence.

But the break didn’t bring in the new blood MacKenzie expected.

“We’re still in the same sort of boat as last year,” MacKenzie says. “It’s hard to get people out to volunteer.” There are only about a dozen people making the nine-day event — from Aug 6 to 15 — come together, he adds.

PCRP will push attendees at this year’s events to come out and help with the 2011 Pride festival and, if nothing else, MacKenzie assures, the membership drive the committee started this year — which has welcomed approximately 100 card-carrying PCRP members — is a good, but small, start.

“I know for a fact that there are a lot more than 100 members of the LGBT community in the greater Saint John area.” It’s hardly the 10 percent of the metropolitan area’s 122,000 people, he jokes.

The lack of active participation in the planning stages has been a point of frustration for him. He would have liked to have seen a much stronger reaction from the queer population. PCRP hosted regular dances, meant to raise funds for Pride, which actually lost money on some occasions.

“We had 14 months to put on something really impressive,” he says. “[But] with 14 months, we could have done a lot more.”

In that time, however, the PCRP team found support from a handful of local businesses, media personalities and prominent members of the community. When the parade works its way through the streets of uptown on Saturday, Aug 14, members of all three major provincial political parties will march.

“It’s nice to know,” he says, “there are politicians marching in our parade without fear of reprisal.”

The grand marshal will be Dr Robert McKinnon, vice-president of the University of New Brunswick Saint John. McKinnon, says MacKenzie, has been a long-time supporter of the queer community as someone who has tried to “stamp out discrimination.”

He’s still uncertain if there will be any presence from the Saint John 225 campaign, from which PCRP devised this year’s theme. Lisa Hrabluk, SJ 225 director, wrote in an email the campaign had “no direct connection” to PCRP’s 225 Years of Diversity celebration, but “(they) certainly are supportive of it.”

MacKenzie says he’s eager to see who shows up for the parade on Saturday.

Despite the challenges and hard work, he and his committee look at the positives rather than the struggles. They have expanded the festival from a mere week to a full nine days and have ensured a number of events are accessible to people of all ages and financial brackets.

MacKenzie insists PCRP is about unity. It welcomes revellers from both within and without the bar scene, and their goal for Pride is to include all communities in the metropolitan region.

They’ve worked with Fredericton’s Pride committee to promote and attend each other’s event, and they are also offering financial assistance to local high school GSAs that want to walk in the parade with banners.

“By the end of this Pride festival,” he says, “I’d like to think anyone that thinks we’re not working together is delusional or from another planet.”

Pride began Friday, Aug 6, with the flag-raising ceremony at City Hall. For more information on Port City Rainbow Pride’s events, visit www.portcityrainbowpride.com.