4 min

VPS marks its territory

Who has the right to Pride?

Credit: Robin Perelle photo

The Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) posted a notice on its website May 28 that has many in Vancouver’s queer community wondering if Gay Pride has been comodified and sold out from under the grassroots community movement from which it was born.

The notice reads: “The word PRIDE (r) is a registered trademark held by Fierté Canada Pride of which the Vancouver Pride Society is a member and licensed user. The VPS may, at our discretion, permit the use of the word PRIDE (r) in all its forms associated with advertising and promotions within the district and surrounding promotional areas of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.”

“We’ve had a lot of feedback through e-mails over the last couple of weeks in which people are disgusted by the fact that they think the VPS is trying to own the word Pride,” says VPS president John Boychuk.

“What they don’t understand is it’s not Vancouver that owns the word,” he explains. “It’s a national Pride board that’s trying to ensure that people keep control of the word Pride and that corporations don’t turn around and say that they own it.”

According to the Canadian Trademarks Database, in 2000 Pride Toronto registered the trademark on the word Pride in the context of “staging of an annual celebration and informational, educational and cultural festival by and for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and transgendered people of their sexual and gender orientations and identities, and their histories, cultures, communities, organizations, relationships, achievements and lives.”

There are hundreds of other trademarks on the word Pride in the database in other contexts. It’s not just the word “Pride” that Pride Toronto claims to own, rather it’s the exclusive right to run a queer festival called “Pride.”

Pride Toronto co-chair David Anderson says the only reason Pride Toronto reserved the trademark was because private groups–like some large circuit party promoters and corporations–were posing as official Pride events, making fat profits, confusing potential Pride sponsors, and not putting much into the community. He says profiteers were sucking resources out of Toronto’s queer community while Pride Toronto, as the legitimately elected not-for-profit community body, struggled to find the funds to pay for things like insurance for the Toronto Pride Parade.

“How do you have a level of control of Pride that allows community groups who want to celebrate the queer community to have access, while those that might use it for purposes that might go against the community do not?” asks Anderson.

Anderson says although Pride Toronto doesn’t have a national mandate, it took the initiative on the trademark issue six years ago because its celebration was Canada’s largest and most commercialized, so it had the resources and saw the immediate need to secure the trademark when it did.

“We very much wanted to protect that regional use of Pride,” he says. “We talked with other Prides about this early on to that very purpose. We work alongside Prides across the country to make sure they have use of the term as they wish.”

Anderson says the reason Pride Toronto has not yet officially passed the trademark to the national association Fierté Canada Pride is that Pride Toronto is fighting a case in the courts. He won’t discuss the details of that case because it’s in process.

Once that is cleared up, he says, Pride Toronto will be in a position to make the official switch in the ownership of the trademark.

In the meantime, community Pride societies across the country can buy licences from Fierté Canada Pride–of which VPS vice president Aviva Lazar is a board member–for a token sum, as little as $1. Pride groups have the option to contribute more if they wish, but Anderson says the money raised is not being used to bankroll Pride Toronto or its court battle.

Last year, the Davie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA) publicly explored the idea of closing part of Davie St the same day as the Pride Parade and festival in an effort to bring business to the merchants in the Davie Village. It was a short-lived movement, but it caused confusion among Pride sponsors, consternation at city hall and tension between the BIA and VPS.

Xtra West asked Boychuk if last year’s kerfuffle had anything to do with the new trademark notice on the VPS website. “No, not at all,” he says. “It was the advice of the city when we sat down last year. They either prefer for groups to collaborate or for groups to have events on different days.”

With the new VPS office in the Davie Village, the society is now a member of the BIA. “If the BIA were to do something like that again, we’d be part of the discussion,” Boychuk says. A Davie St event is still part of the VPS’ long-term plans, and relations between the VPS and BIA are much better, he adds.

BIA executive director Lyn Hellyar confirms improved relations with the VPS and says the BIA has no plans for its own special events on Pride Day this year.

So where’s the line? What groups get to use Pride and what groups don’t?

Boychuk says bars and clubs will continue to be free to expand their patios and hold special promotions during Pride. He says Xtra West will “absolutely, absolutely,” be free to continue to publish the Ultimate Pride Guide. (Pink Triangle Press, the not-for-profit parent company that publishes Xtra West, holds a trademark on the Ultimate Pride Guide logo.)

Boychuk says the VPS has not felt the need to try to enforce any claim to the Pride trademark in the past.

“We’re talking about individuals who all of a sudden decide they want to do something to make a few bucks,” says Boychuk. “They know the tourists are coming to town, that the gay community is looking for something to spend money on and they say, ‘I’m going to be gay for a day and I’m going to take the money and run.'”

Boychuk does ask that any group that wants to run a Pride event of its own buy a $20 corporate membership in the VPS. Xtra West asked if the VPS could revoke a membership if it ever wanted to get tough with a group it decided didn’t earn the right to use the word Pride.

“We’ve never been in a position like that,” he says. “It’s something we’d obviously try to work out prior to anything actually happening.

“We’ve opened up our board and meetings and been quite transparent to anything that we’ve been doing,” he continues. “We have held community forums to really make sure we are doing the right things. At the end of the day, we feel the people we have on the board are a true representation of the community, elected by the community to organize and run a single, united Vancouver Pride celebration.”