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VPS hosts national Pride conference

Paves way for international gathering in 2008

A NATIONAL DIALOGUE: Ross Chapman (from left), Larry Campbell, Hedy Fry, Raymond Taavel and John Boychuk, at the opening reception of the Fierté Canada Pride conference at the Oasis Pub, Mar 30. Credit: Douglas Boyce photo

Pride organizers from across the country converged on Vancouver, Mar 29, as the Vancouver

Pride Society (VPS) played host to Fierté Canada Pride’s (FCP) third annual national conference.

“There was excellent representation from coast to coast, so the networking opportunities were very good,” says John Boychuk, conference host and VPS president. “We also had three of the four corners of the United States represented, so there was an excellent opportunity for people to learn a little bit about the American side of things.”

“These guys did a great job of putting this together,” says FCP president and Halifax Pride representative, Raymond Taavel. “The attendance was unfortunately lower [than last year], but that wasn’t anything that was the fault of Vancouver Pride. There [are] 22 registrants that represent about six Prides.

“Coming all the way out to Vancouver can be an expensive proposition that a lot of Prides just simply can’t afford,” Taavel continues. “One of the things that Fierté wants to do is look at revenue streams that enable us to sponsor Pride organizations to send representatives to conferences.”

Ramona Westgate, for example, was able to travel from Trenton, Nova Scotia, thanks to FCP sponsorship. She is the FCP representative for Atlantic Canada and is involved with Pictou County Pride.

“Normally our group would not have the funds to fly from one coast to the other,” she explains. “But there is a greater need in the rural areas because if we didn’t have any Pride festivities, there would be nothing. Most of the rural communities don’t have gay bars, so how are you going to meet and establish a local support system?

“The Vancouver Pride Society put a lot of work into this and it shows,” Westgate continues. “The community support is visible as well in the packages that we’ve received with coupons and discounts.”

“We were in Halifax last year,” remembers Ross Chapman, a regional director of InterPride and board member of Pride Toronto. “The primary goal always is networking, and self-learning. Teaching ourselves; the ability for each organization to help everybody else so that we can go back to our representative organizations re-invigorated, refreshed and with new ideas.”

The FCP conference in Vancouver included workshops on mentoring rural prides, community outreach, marketing, volunteerism, online surveys and gender awareness.

“Vancouver offered twice as many workshops as have ever been offered at a Canadian conference,” says Boychuk. “They were very diverse, covered new issues and looked at some of the things that we deal with a little differently.

“The conference also gave us a chance to test our community resources,” Boychuk continues. “It was an excellent lead-in for us as the 2008 host city for the World InterPride Conference next October.”

“This [event] recognizes just how important we are, and having the InterPride conference here next year is even more recognition,” said senator and former Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell at the FCP conference opening reception. “Vancouver is a place that recognizes diversity, that’s one of the governing principles.”

“There are 60-plus Pride organizations in Canada and it’s pretty well a given at this point that most of them aren’t really cognizant that FCP exists, let alone InterPride,” says Taavel.

“InterPride is the international association of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender coordinators,” explains New York-based InterPride co-president, Russell Murphy. “It’s a networking organization to support organizations that do Pride events, provide educational and resource materials, and sometimes just the emotional support here, or in another countries.”

InterPride was founded 26 ago.

“FCP was born out of InterPride,” clarifies Taavel. “There were opportunities to build something that was a little more specific to the needs of the Canadian scene. InterPride provides Fierté with structural support. There’s a very close working relationship between the two organizations.”

FCP made headlines last year as the organization formed specifically to act as custodian for a trademark on Pride festivals in Canada. Those who support the move to trademark Pride say doing so will protect not-for-profit Pride organizations from profiteers who use Pride to make money without giving anything back the community. Critics of the plan say Pride was born as a grassroots activist movement that belongs to everyone and should not be controlled by any one person or group.

Taavel confirms that Pride Toronto owns the trademark.

“In a perfect world, it may find its way over to FCP, which would be a better place for it,” he explains. But he acknowledges that he has no idea when that transition may happen.

“Because FCP right now is basically just getting itself organized,” he says. “There’s no rush.”

When asked about his position on the trademark debate, Taavel says, “It’s a controversial issue for all the Pride organizations. There are grumblings not only in Vancouver, but right across the country. The one important thing about the trademarking issue is that Pride is still a word, a concept, which the community owns. Trademarking it, from our perspective, is a way of preserving and protecting it so that the community can continue to use it freely and unfettered.”