1973. With Vancouver’s first Pride march still five years away — many of its participants would wear paper bags over their heads to protect their identities — a groundbreaking group of gay people took an enormous first step toward liberation. They publicly hosted a picnic in a park.
It may not sound like that big a step to those of us who weren’t yet born, but it was huge. It was beyond brave. It paved the way.
“Can you imagine their hopes and dreams? The dreams of those brave souls who had the courage, the will and the pride to attend? Did they think or dare to dream that one day we would have all that we now have?”
My thoughts exactly as I watched a striking drag queen deliver a stirring speech on the steps of city hall to help kick off this year’s Pride and Outgames in Vancouver.
Could any of those people in the park have imagined a day where their gayness would not only be welcome but genuinely celebrated by the mayor, council and staff of this city?
“Could even one of those dreamers that day have thought that that same mayor, staff and council, and all of you, would be addressed by a 7-foot-tall drag queen at city hall?” Joan-E, this year’s local Pride grand marshal, asked an appreciative crowd.
I doubt it.
Not even an hour earlier, we were upstairs in the council chamber listening to Mayor Gregor Robertson proclaim Outgames week and host a panel discussion on queer realities.
“I am extraordinarily proud that Vancouver is a city where gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, two-spirited and queer communities are such an active and highly visible part of our community,” the mayor announced with obvious enthusiasm.
“What a thrill this year to be hosting the Outgames as well,” he continued, thanking the Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association for choosing our city. “It’s a great complement to Pride week.”
Then he acknowledged that we still face homophobia here, too. “There are many people who are still forced to hide their true selves, whether they’re on the playing field, at home or at work, or even with their families. So there is a lot more work still to do to make sure that all people have the opportunity to thrive as equal members of society,” he said.
A political speech delivered at an opportune moment in a civic election year, to be sure, but a sincerely supportive one, I think, well worth remembering this November.
“We’re very fortunate to have a mayor who’s so positive towards our community,” gay city councillor Tim Stevenson told the room.
Robertson is sympathetic and supportive, lesbian city councillor Ellen Woodsworth agreed (and she’s not even a member of the mayor’s political party).
It was a comfortable session in a council chamber filled with members of a community that, for the most part, no longer feels ignored and shut out.
A community with its own advisory committee to the mayor.
A community that no longer has to fight constantly to be heard, that can increasingly laugh in the halls of power instead of just scream.
A community whose presence will not only be felt but openly celebrated all over Vancouver this summer, with plaques honouring our chosen families and other Celebrate Queer Vancouver events, Pride festivities, the Outgames, the Queer Arts Festival, the Queer Film Festival and the We Demand conference at the end of August, commemorating Canada’s first gay demonstration held simultaneously here and in Ottawa 40 years ago.
It’s the summer of queer in Vancouver, and it’s only just begun.
“As we stand here, safe in the knowledge that Billie Jean King has been with her same-sex partner for decades and that Sir Elton John has a child he adopted with his gay Canadian husband, as we stand together at city hall in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, allow me to wish each and every one of you your happiest Pride ever,” Joan-E told the crowd.
I second the drag queen on the steps of power: To your happiest Pride ever, Vancouver!
Wonder what we’ll do next year for an encore?