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Sun comes out for Vancouver’s Pride parade

Canadian Olympians join marchers this year

The Clean Sober Proud float was among the most colourful in Vancouver's 2013 Pride parade. Credit: Ross Johnson

The sun shone on hundreds of thousands of people attending Vancouver’s annual Pride parade Aug 4, even as international rights weighed on many participants’ minds, heading into the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia.

“We’re really happy with the turnout, and we’re so glad it’s sunny,” says Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) manager Ray Lam, who estimates 650,000 people attended what the VPS billed as the 35th anniversary of Pride in Vancouver.

Participants included Canadian Olympic snowboarder Mercedes Nicoll and skier Mike Janyk. “It’s great to have the Olympic team coming out and supporting Pride,” Lam says.

This is the first year that members of the Canadian Olympic Committee have participated in Pride celebrations across the country. The athletes marched to publicly protest Russia’s new anti-gay law, which criminalizes all gay-friendly expressions as “propaganda.” Though the Russian legislature promised Aug 2 to exempt foreign athletes and guests from the law during the Games, Russian gays and lesbians will still be subject to punishment.

BC Premier Christy Clark and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson also marched after both being absent from last year’s parade. This year, they were among the first of more than 150 floats and entries to march and roll down Robson Street, south on Denman and along Beach Ave to the festival at Sunset Beach, amid booming music, glittery bodies, rainbows and stilts.

Participants ranged from community groups and sports leagues, to large corporations, to nightclubs, political parties, police officers, protest groups and more.

BC Public Service (BCPS) paramedic chief Marilyn Oberg says several ambulance squads were out in the crowds on duty but that Pride is personal for many members of BCPS.

“In the parade itself, we have a bunch of people that are on their days off,” she says.“It’s a fun party; it’s a lovely celebration, but really, every single one of us stands here for a reason.”

Vancouver-West End NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert marched for his seventh year in a row. “Each year it renews the spirit and reminds us why we’re fighting, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun,” he says.

“For me it’s about the next fights — trans equality, taking the next steps to make our schools safer and speaking about the international scene, where many people can still be killed for being gay or straight or bi or trans.”

BC’s newly elected Liberal attorney general, Suzanne Anton, was decked out in pink near the tail end of the parade. “I’ve come to this parade every year that I’ve been in politics, which is over 10 years now,” she says.

“No corporation will succeed without having good diversity. No government will succeed without diversity; no political party will succeed without diversity. It’s so important to all of us,” she says. “Everybody is welcome; everybody is part of our community.”

Clad head-to-toe in multicoloured glitter and a yellow cape, Greg Rose has marched in Pride parades across Canada since the 1970s, but this year’s event has new meaning for him.

“The gay flags are for those in Russia,” he says, indicating several rainbow flags poking out of his hat. “Because if they even show the rainbow flag [in Russia], it’s a prison sentence or they get taken off the street.”

The crowds lined the edge of the street, pressing themselves up against the barriers and waving rainbow flags in the air.

Surrey resident Rick Johnson showed up four hours early to stake out a good seat.

His reasons for attending are lighthearted. “Just to have fun and for everybody worldwide to have fun,” he says, plucking a gold grill out of his teeth to speak.

Onlooker Harry Mang stood with his wife along Robson Street. “It’s freedom — people have a choice of whatever they like to do,” he says of his reasons for attending the parade.

Sally Ting Zhao watched her first Pride parade in Vancouver this year. “It’s fabulous because I never saw this in China,” she says.

About three hours after the Dykes on Bikes led the way, the last float, booming Spice Girls songs, rolled its way to the Pride festival, where vendors and live music awaited the crowds.