Opinion
5 min

Ten things you might not know about the Vancouver Pride Society

Co-executive director shares a behind-the-scenes look at the VPS

It may not be widely known, but every Pride parade applicant in Vancouver is evaluated based on what steps they’ve taken to support the LGBT community. Credit: C Bowman/Vancouver Pride Society

I started working as the co-executive director of the Vancouver Pride Society in March 2016 and it has been a whirlwind ever since.

Diving into planning just four months before last year’s Pride celebrations was a hectic, mammoth challenge that felt overwhelming at times. But we made it through, and as soon as our 2016 season finished our staff sent surveys to our suppliers, volunteers, performers, community partners and the general public to collect feedback about our events.

Overall, the feedback was extremely positive, not just about the organization of our events, but our follow-through on commitments, our integration and appreciation of volunteers, and the changes we implemented, like adding interactive art installations to our Davie Street Party or creating the Pride Patrol volunteers who roamed our events talking about consent and safety.

So many people offered us respectful critiques and gave us many helpful suggestions to consider for our 2017 season, such as seeking  performers who better reflect the diversity of the LGBTQ2+ community, further supporting other events organized by community groups during Pride week, and how to make our events safer and more inclusive for everyone.

We also embarked on a community consultation process to engage with groups who might face barriers to attending Pride events.

Through all of our feedback gathering, I have learned that there are some myths or misunderstandings about the Vancouver Pride Society, or things that the general public just doesn’t know.

To help break down some barriers of communication, I would like to share 10 things you might not know about the VPS:

10. Even though the VPS produces multiple large-scale events, we are a small operation with just 11 staff from May to August, and only four staff during our “off season.” We work in a small office space that definitely gets cozy during our busy season. (The space may be cozy but it’s  full of rainbows, unicorns and sparkles that you can’t miss if you come visit!)

VPS staff share the rainbows in their cozy office.
Andrea Arnot/Daily Xtra

9. Speaking of staff, the VPS board of directors decided to appoint two executive directors in March 2016 to help lead the organization, each ED with a different function. Kieran Burgess brings years of working large events with the Ironman organization. He just finished his very last assignment for his MBA program on Feb 19, and definitely brings his knowledge of budgets and finance to his role in managing the organizational operations.

As for me, throughout my entire career, I have worked to create positive social change in the areas of diversity and inclusion. I have been successful at creating safer spaces for community dialogue and opportunities for groups and individuals to work together, often using interactive arts-based methods. I think combining my leadership style with Kieran’s at the helm made for a Pride season last year that was efficient, fiscally viable, more organized and intentionally interactive. We hope to do it again this year!

8. Regarding the community consultation that I mentioned earlier, the results to date have indicated that a large percentage of people think our board of directors is not diverse. Let’s introduce you to our board:

Co-chair: Charmaine de Silva

Co-chair: Michelle Fortin

Secretary: John Whistler

Treasurer: Darius Maze

Directors: Alan Jernigan, Nicola Spurling, Azza Rojbi, Catherine Jenkins

Kieran and I also share a seat on the board.

Clockwise from top left: Kieran Burgess, Nicola Spurling, Alan Jernigan, Michelle Fortin, John Whistler, Andrea Arnot, Charmaine de Silva, Azza Rojbi, Darius Maze, Catherine Jenkins.
Photos supplied/Vancouver Pride Society

At our board meeting on Feb 26, 2017, we were delighted to appoint Catherine Jenkins to our board. Meanwhile, Alan Jernigan stepped down as co-chair because his business is taking off and he doesn’t have as much time to devote to the organization. We are all happy that he will remain a director at large. Michelle Fortin was appointed to replace Alan as co-chair.

7. Did you know that all Pride parade entries go through quite a vigorous process to be accepted into the parade?

The VPS parade working group is made up of myself and community members. We meet monthly to adjudicate parade applications using a matrix to score each one.

Each parade applicant is evaluated based on what initiatives they’ve taken to support the LGBTQ2+ community internally and externally throughout the year, as well as how their values align with those of the VPS, and if they have a policy around anti-discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

Before any parade application is accepted, our working group also does some research to see if the organization or business has any history of homophobia or transphobia, and if so, whether it’s recent and has been resolved.

We feel that vetting all applicants helps us have parade entries that are either serving the LGBTQ2+ community or that are truly allies who walk the walk the other 364 days of the year.

6. In addition to the Pride parade through the West End, the VPS also produces East Side Pride on the weekend anniversary of the original Stonewall Riots in June. This small, fun, low-key festival is held in Grandview Park on Commercial Drive in East Van, and features local bands and performers, artisan vendors and community group booths.

East Side Pride takes place on Commercial Drive in June.
Photo supplied/Vancouver Pride Society

5. The VPS also provides financial support to a number of community events, like the Dyke March, Aging With Pride, Queer Prom, Untoxicated Sober Dance and the Trans and Genderqueer March. We believe the folks organizing these events are the experts at creating spaces that specific communities want and need. We offer support with funds, marketing, volunteers and staff time.

4. This year, the VPS is offering small bursaries to small or vulnerable community groups to assist them with participating in Pride week, either to attend VPS events or to help them create or produce their own. Any group who is interested can email office@vancouverpride.ca or call the VPS office at 604-687-0955 to discuss an informal proposal.

3. Last year, the VPS  worked with the Consent Crew to help us create safer spaces for people at our larger events. Creating a culture of consent at our events is extremely important, especially when there are vulnerable community members who might want to attend. The Consent Crew meanders in pairs through event spaces and engages in conversations with people about how consent is based in respecting each other’s wants and needs, and asking for permission to engage with someone (such as asking someone, “May I give you a hug?”).

This year, the Consent Crew will be back and we are pleased to be working with Karmik. Karmik is a West Coast harm reduction initiative, focusing on harm reduction strategies while promoting health and safety in nightlife/festival communities. Karmik volunteers joined the Consent Crew at our Unicorn Ball on Feb 18, 2017, and will be at our larger events like the Davie Street Party and the Sunset Beach Festival this August.

Participants strike a pose at the 2016 Davie Street Party.
C Bowman/Vancouver Pride Society

2. Through our community consultation process, we have also heard that people feel like there aren’t enough opportunities to learn about the history of the Pride movement in Vancouver. In response to this critique, we are curating a “Living Library.”

The Living Library will consist of knowledge holders and storytellers who can share small slices of history in 10-15 minutes with individuals or groups. This initiative will be present at all of our 2017 events. Participants will be able to “check someone out” like a library book! If you enjoy engaging in conversation with others, have a slice of Pride history to share and would like to be part of this project, please contact us!

1. Our staff, board and volunteers are all wonderful humans who care deeply about the LGBTQ2+ community. We all work really hard to create celebratory, fun, interactive, meaningful, safe events for the LGBTQ2+ community and allies to enjoy. We are always open to critiques and suggestions. We aren’t always perfect, but we do our best to be responsive to feedback. Contact us at office@vancouverpride.ca to share yours!