Gay rights pioneer and Canadian drag court founder ted northe will be recognized posthumously as this summer’s grand marshal at the Vancouver Pride parade, along with Pride House co-founder Dean Nelson and trans filmmaker Gwen Haworth.
“Grand marshals inspire us with their courage, conviction and dedication,” the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) says in a May 30 press release. “Each year, up to three outstanding individuals from the LGBTQ community are recognized and celebrated during Pride week and lead our entries during the Pride parade.”
Nelson, who also spearheads the annual WinterPride festival at Whistler and co-founded the Mr Gay World mentorship program, says he feels “quite honoured” to be chosen.
“I was just one of the pegs in the big machine of a little dream that we had in creating a safer, more inclusive space during the Olympics,” he says of the establishment of the first Pride Houses in Whistler and Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Games.
“We had no idea, at that time, the effect that we would actually have. As more and more people came on board and the interest grew here in Vancouver, it just took on a life of its own. All these new contacts started coming together, and it was very exciting. It was magical,” Nelson recalls.
Two years after the successful Whistler and Vancouver Pride House experiments, the UEFA Euro football cup in Warsaw and the Summer Olympics in London established their own Pride Houses in 2012.
Pride Houses are also planned for the 2014 Commonwealth Games to be held in Glasgow, from July 23 to Aug 3; the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, which will run from June 12 to July 13; the 2015 Pan-Am Games in Toronto; and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio.
“I can’t help but be humbled when people recognize the work we do along with community,” says Haworth, who is also an educator with Vancouver Coastal Health’s Prism Services, a clinical, education, information and referral service for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and two spirit communities.
“It’s part of community working together; it’s not something that I feel that I’ve ever been the spearhead of but getting the chance to work with amazing, incredible people in Vancouver,” she says.
Haworth points to her coming out at 27 as a catalyst for becoming more socially conscious and advocating for social equity.
Haworth’s volunteerism has included stints with the Catherine White Holman Wellness Centre and the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation’s trans working group. She currently sits on the City of Vancouver’s LGBTQ advisory committee and the board of directors for Out on Screen.
Haworth’s seminal film She’s a Boy I Knew, which empathetically but forthrightly navigates her transitioning journey and its impact on not only herself, but her family, friends and partners, has led to a demand for its screening in film festivals in Canada and around the world. It’s not a story she thought she’d ever share.
“Getting to a place where I felt supported by my family to make that film was in itself cathartic,” she says. “What has happened since, I just feel so fortunate to be able to put something out there that resonates for other people and that people have said has been helpful.”
Before coming out, Haworth says she never really saw positive representations of trans individuals in the media or her communities. “Since then, it’s just been overwhelming,” she says, adding that being acknowledged for contributing to our communities’ activism is “simply amazing.”
“I won’t know how I feel until I’m there, on a car in front of a lot of people,” she says of the Pride parade, which will get underway at around noon Aug 3, at the intersection of Robson and Thurlow streets.
Ted northe, who died March 30 at age 74, is perhaps best remembered as the founder of Canada’s drag court system, which sees communities elect local empresses and emperors to preside over charitable fundraising initiatives and celebrations. But according to Xtra columnist Kevin Dale McKeown, northe was a gay rights activist “long before they coined the word ‘activist.’”
In 1958, northe and some friends publicly demanded equal rights for homosexuals — in an era when gays were legally deemed to be deviants. He later assumed a leading role in a campaign to decriminalize homosexuality in Canada, working with then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau to press for the eventual passage of Bill C-150 in 1969.
The Empress Ball on June 14 will mark the 50th anniversary of the drag court system in Canada and will honour northe’s contributions. Northe held the title of Empress of Canada until he stepped down from the role earlier this year.