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Who owns Pride?

Trademark advisory committee reaches for vision

PUBLIC DOMAIN: Marc Schaper (from left), Jim Deva and Jamie Lee Hamilton are among those who oppose the VPS' effort to enforce a trademark on BC Pride festivals. Credit: (Matt Mills photo)

The Vancouver Pride Society’s (VPS) trademark advisory panel met for the first time, Dec 21, but, after more than an hour of spirited discussion, resolved that not enough people showed up to the meeting for the panel to move forward until after the new year.

In 2000 Pride Toronto registered a trademark on the word PRIDE (all capitals) 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.”

Pride Toronto co-chair David Anderson told Xtra West last May that Pride Toronto reserved the Canadian trademark because private groups in Toronto–like some large circuit party promoters and corporations–were staging Pride events, making fat profits, confusing potential Pride Toronto sponsors, luring celebrants away from official Pride events, and not contributing much to the community.

In the meantime, Pride Toronto formed a national organization of Pride groups called Fierté Canada Pride, of which VPS vice president Aviva Lazar is a board member. The purpose of Fierté Canada Pride is to hold and defend the Pride trademark for legitimate, not-for-profit, community Pride societies.

Pride groups across the country can buy membership in Fierté Canada Pride for a token fee; as little as $1.

Anderson says none of the money collected by Fierté Canada Pride is used to bankroll Pride Toronto and that the trademark will be officially passed to the national group after Pride Toronto is done fighting an infringement case in the courts. Anderson won’t discuss the details of that case, he says, because it’s in process.

Last May, the VPS posted a notice on its website saying that it intended to enforce a claim on a trademark on “the word PRIDE.”

One month later, queer activist Jamie Lee Hamilton received an e-mail from Lazar demanding that Hamilton buy a $20 VPS corporate membership if she wanted to carry out her plans to run two Pride events of her own, Man Pride and Tranny Pride.

Hamilton refused to pay, saying that Pride was not a commodity to be bought and sold and that she had every right to use the word and express her Pride any way she saw fit. The VPS backed down saying it would not try to interfere with her events in 2006, but that there should be a community discussion on the trademark issue.

“At the end of the day, somebody is going to own the word Pride,” VPS president John Boychuk told Xtra West in July. “We would love the community to own it.”

“I don’t believe you should be trademarking the word Pride,” VPS board member Marc Schaper told Xtra West Jul 27. “I think it’s absolutely despicable to place those restrictions on a person’s individual rights to express their freedom and choice. I think this whole thing goes beyond the bounds of moral comprehension. I think it’s actually disgusting.”

At the VPS annual general meeting on Oct 21, 2006 the membership instructed the VPS board not to make any commitments on the Pride trademark issue until after a special general meeting to be held no later than Feb 21, 2007.

In the interim, the VPS board appointed Schaper as co-chair of a Pride advisory panel.

“We decided that it would be in the best interests of our community if we had board representation while the other co-chair was somebody from the community,” Boychuk told the room at the Dec 21 meeting. We intended “those two people to go forward to the get the pulse of the community on the trademark issue and to write a report to bring back to the board of directors and membership. That was the purpose of this advisory panel.”

But the group didn’t elect the other co-chair at the Dec 21 meeting.

“We’ve received interest from people who want to be part of this committee but can’t make it to this meeting,” said VPS board member Ray Lam. “It’s not really a good idea to make a decision like this at a meeting attended by only three members of the community.”

“Three days before Christmas is an unusual time to call a meeting,” agreed Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva. “I think we need to set another date to make sure we have more people at the table–hopefully a group of 10 or 12 community people–and that we decide on a mandate with a clean slate and a blank piece of paper.”

The panel decided to reconvene on Jan 11 at 6:30 pm at the VPS office and has asked that anyone interested in participating please plan to attend.

“This is a very exciting time because this community right now is the only one in all of Canada who has actually been proactive to this situation,” says Boychuk. “We’re the only ones stepping forward. I hope, that at the end of the day, the precedent that we set will reflect our Canadian community.”