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3 min

Where’s our winter party?

Mardi Gras was just the beginning

It’s not every day that one of the biggest stars in gay porn can blend into a crowd like he’s just another one of the boys.

But when the crowd is a circuit party and the location is Miami, Florida, the presence of Falcon Studios star Matthew Rush barely caused a ripple at the recent Winter Party Festival that saw thousands of people head to South Beach, Mar 1-6.

As I danced just steps away from Rush under the hot Miami sun surrounded by a bevy of half-naked men, I couldn’t help but reflect on the ways in which Vancouver could benefit from a similar type of event.

We are, after all, blessed with Canada’s most temperate climate. Sure it’s not Florida, but Vancouver beats Halifax or Winnipeg on almost any winter day.

A winter party in Vancouver would unite the city’s gay community during the gloomiest time of year. Our need to connect with others is often felt more acutely in winter when the days are short and the nights are long.

More importantly, a multi-day winter festival would build community by bringing people together in a gay-positive space the community can call its own. This in turn would go a long way toward capturing some of the magic we all feel during Pride each summer by creating more ways to live loud and gay in Vancouver.

A winter party could also bring more tourists to the city, which seems especially crucial now that our world-famous gay ski week is in flux. February’s successful Mardi Gras night in the Davie Village is the perfect foundation on which to build.

And if all of those reasons still don’t make you want to get out and party, consider this: the money raised from a winter party could be used to benefit many of our local gay groups.

Most of Vancouver’s non-profit gay organizations at least partially rely on the kindness of others in order to survive year after year. These organizations, such as The Centre on Bute St, AIDS Vancouver/Gayway, the Community Based Research Centre, the Asian Society for the Intervention of AIDS and the Vancouver Pride Society, among others, often struggle to make ends meet. We only need to glance at the shabby Bute St clinic to know that this is true.

Miami’s Winter Party started as a one-time fundraiser to defeat an anti-gay amendment to the Florida Constitution in February 1994. Now headed into its 14th year, the Winter Party has become a multi-day, multi-venue celebration of all things gay. And two-thirds of the net proceeds from all Winter Party events are returned to the local gay community. In 2005, that meant $130,000 USD for Miami-area organizations.

Think for a moment if Vancouver did the same thing with a winter party. What a world of difference it could make to our queer community groups.

Imagine if getting a piece of that money meant the Vancouver Pride Society could stage international-calibre events, such as an open-air party by the sea, to rival summer Pride parties in New York City and Sydney, Australia.

Imagine if The Centre could put the money it received toward its savings for a better and brighter home.

Imagine if the money raised allowed the Community Based Research Centre to cover its annual operating expenses and programs, such as the very successful Sex Now surveys, without worry-something that is now a challenge for the group each year.

So just how can Vancouver create its own winter festival?

For starters, a thematic local connection is needed. “Mardi Gras” is convenient but what does it really have to do with Vancouver? Our winter festival should have a West Coast twist to give it our own stamp.

Granted, things may become more difficult when we tackle questions of organizing responsibilities, sponsorship and deciding who the money raised from such a festival will benefit.

But what we need most is a commitment to cooperation across the artificial lines our memberships in various groups create.

A winter party weekend could be precisely what is needed to energize our city’s sleepy scene in the dark days of winter. As a bonus, our local community groups would benefit. Let’s look to Miami’s Winter Party as a role model for success, Vancouver, as we work to create our own party with a strong vision that celebrates all things queer.