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5 min

Vancouver’s biggest Pride parade yet

Some queers question the corporate presence

With more than 380,000 onlookers and 140 parade entries, this year’s Pride march was Vancouver’s biggest to date. But it was the silence, not the reverberations of celebration, that made this day stand out for many.

Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) board member Ray Lam was standing at Denman and Davie when everyone around him suddenly stopped cheering.

“All the music, dancers, and floats stopped. The queer community stopped celebrating and started remembering those who have fought for Pride and can no longer be with us. I cried,” he says.

VPS president John Boychuk borrowed the idea from New York’s Heritage of Pride Society.

“The gay and lesbian movement started there 38 years ago with Stonewall,” he explains. “One of the things they do there is shut down the whole parade for a moment of silence to remember those who came before, those who cannot celebrate Pride and those around the world who are limited in their ability to be GLBT.”

In Vancouver the moment of silence came at 1 pm. “You could hear a pin drop,” says Boychuk. “Nobody moved. For that moment of silence people were reflecting on past, present and future.”

The silence, however, did not extend the length of the parade route, and many saw 1 pm come and go without any break in the festivities.

Silence or not, at least two people attending the parade were unimpressed by the celebration of all things gay.

Two men who identified themselves as Robert Ephrata and Larry held large signs with Biblical quotes and an image of Christ directly across from the Boathouse. They shouted Biblical messages, to the frustration of nearby spectators who were visibly annoyed by their antics.

Upon seeing the signs, MC Joan-E addressed the protestors. “There’s a lot more Christian love along these streets than there will ever be carrying one of those signs,” she said.

“I love people and I want them to go to heaven,” explains Ephrata, who describes himself as an equal opportunity preacher. “I go to concerts, football games and the Dalai Lama event. Proverbs 1:20 says go where the people are and they say there are 320,000 people here today. I really want people to choose heaven.”

Although Efrata claimed to be local, an article by Steve Friess in the Jan 2 edition of the New York Times says Efrata currently resides in Bellingham, Washington where he leads a fundamentalist congregation known as the Fairhaven Believers Fellowship. Ephrata pickets dozens of events throughout the year, including the Rose Bowl Parade, Mardi Gras, and Seattle Pride.

Most parade attendees regarded the protestors as a petty nuisance. Sex activist Jennifer Skrukwa playfully suggested a solution to a nearby police officer.

“I said to the cop, ‘Would you notice if I hit them over the head with their sign?’ And he said, ‘Yes, actually.’ Then I told him that I do both boys and girls and that maybe I could distract him while my friend whacks them with the sign.”

The two protestors couldn’t put a damper on Mitch Mack’s day. For Mack, the Pride parade is a family tradition. He has attended every parade since 1990 and this year he brought his seven-year-old niece to partake in the festivities. “We dressed her up this morning to make sure her outfit was coordinated,” he says.

He waves to a man across the street. “You should talk to Ricky, he’s been to a million of these things.”

Across the street Ricky Starlight is enjoying his 19th beer, barely concealed with a wet paper napkin. “I keep it covered for discretion,” he says. “And so far no cop has stopped me!”

Starlight has been in 11 parades and attended 13. “I come out to see my friends,” he says.

His friend Terry comes from Calgary every year to see the parade. “It’s 10 times better than our parade,” he explains between sips from his third beer. “There are 140 floats in this parade and we’re lucky if we have 20 in Calgary.”

However, some parade-goers feel Pride has lost touch with its political roots here.

“It feels like there are more spectators and corporations than queer people,” says Victoria resident Basia Pakula “There are lots of floats just giving out goodies and advertising.

“I have mixed feelings about the spectator aspect,” she continues, looking around her. “I’m not sure whether it’s supportive or if it’s reinforcing the stereotype that gays are perverted.”

University of British Columbia grad student Shantel Ivits laments the lack of visible queer women at the event. “The corporate sponsors had a lot of straight-looking women handing out their freebies, while pretty much the only lesbians I noticed were the dykes on bikes,” she says.

Ivits suggests the selection of corporate sponsors is a possible reason for the lack of apparent lesbians. She points to Schick, who was handing out free razors, as one example.

“One big thing about the lesbian community is that many of us don’t shave our legs or armpits. It’s a feminist statement against tailoring our bodies toward the male gaze. The fact that Schick chose this venue to spread the idea that everyone needs to shave their legs is pretty ignorant,” she says.

VPS treasurer and parade director Ken Coolen says the corporate presence in the parade is a benchmark as to how far we’ve come as a community.

“It’s kind of a catch-22,” he says. “I understand people say it’s too corporate but we’re lucky that it’s corporate because there are other places in the world where the corporations wouldn’t touch the gay community.” He points to Poland, the home country of Grand Marshal Tomasz Baczkowski, as an example.

“In Poland a company or a bank, or whatever else is in our parade over here, wouldn’t be caught dead in a gay Pride parade.”

The risks associated with being out and gay, however, are not limited to faraway lands.

Rylee, 15, came to the parade at the request of a friend. He has been out of the closet as bisexual since Grade 7 and finds it difficult to be queer in Surrey.

“Most people are cool and the teachers don’t really care but a couple of months ago these gangsters finally found out,” explains the soft-spoken teen. “I got beat up a couple of times. There are gangsters there who beat you up if they find out you’re gay.”

He came to the parade because he believes being queer is something to be proud of and feels more comfortable in Vancouver.

“When I come to Vancouver I feel like I belong here. I’m trying to talk my mom into moving back here.”

This was also the first Pride for 17-year-old Steph, who describes her hometown Chilliwack as a “ghetto with no gay people.”

“There are a few gay people in Chilliwack,” she acknowledges, “but they all come here.”

Two years ago she hosted a day of silence at her high school. “We got a good turnout but people would not look at us or talk to us afterwards.”

She says it’s tough being gay in Chilliwack. “Gaybashers did thousands of dollars worth of damage to my car while it was in the school parking lot but the cops and the school didn’t do anything.” She just graduated this year and is contemplating a move to Vancouver.

This year’s Pride parade was also attended by dignitaries from every level of government and just about every political stripe.

Perhaps the most notable presence was that of Vancouver police chief-designate Jim Chu, who received a thunderous ovation.

Vancouver Centre MP Hedy Fry, sporting a dashing top hat and tails, was joined by Liberal deputy leader Michael Ignatieff.

The BC Liberals were represented by Vancouver-Burrard MLA Lorne Mayencourt, and Richmond Centre MLA Olga Ilich, who received smatterings of applause.

Federal NDP leader Jack Layton led the NDP float, with queer MPs Bill Siksay and Libby Davies, as well as MP Peter Julian and MLAs Adrian Dix, David Chudnovsky, and Mike Farnworth.

The Conservative Party of Canada did not have a float in this year’s parade, but according to Coolen they were paid and registered.

Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan invited all city councillors, school trustees and parks commissioners to join him in the city’s official parade entry. NPA parks commissioner Korina Houghton, school board chair Ken Denike, and councillors Kim Capri, BC Lee, Elizabeth Ball, and Suzanne Anton, along with Vision councillors Heather Deal, Tim Stevenson and George Chow, accepted the invitation.

Parks commissioner Spencer Herbert pushed his own wheelbarrow ahead of the city entry, adorned with “your queer parks commissioner” banners along the sides and an “end the strike now” sign in front.