Last weekend, several friends and I headed north to attend the Gay Pride event in Vancouver, B.C. After dropping off our overnight bags at a friend's south of downtown, Mark, Ed and I continued into the West End for a morning of strolling down Davies Street, with its eclectic book stores and retail shops, exploring the seawall and outskirts of Stanley Park and later climbing down to the clothing-optional Wreck Beach on the shores of the University of British Columbia.
The culmination of this celebratory weekend, which we've made a rite of passage over the last three years, is the Vancouver Pride Parade on Sunday. With more than 185,000 spectators and 130 floats, the parade is the largest in western Canada. After a breakfast at my favorite greasy spoon on Denman Street, we met some friends at Delany's, downed an iced mocha and flirted with the locals at this gay-owned and operated coffee house. Soon after we discovered a perfect viewing spot along Beach Avenue close to the parade reviewing stand, where a mistress of ceremonies stood in his flowing, tye-died gown ready to make both friendly and surly comments on the proceedings.
Earlier this summer I'd attended Seattle's Gay Pride Parade, which I'd viewed as a stunning success, especially considering how hesitant I felt about moving the parade off Capitol Hill, the historical heart of Seattle's gay community, to downtown. I marched along Fourth Avenue this year, passing out material promoting CAMP, the Gay Men's Annual Retreat sponsored by Q-Squared and held over Labor Day weekend. In addition, I'd gone ahead to watch portions of the parade prior to our contingent starting to march.
So I wondered what Seattle might learn from Vancouver, or vice-versa, with the hopes of improving our parade and making it a not-to-miss experience rather than a missed opportunity or bungled afterthought.
A question of length
First of all, shorter is better. Vancouver's parade began at noon and the last float passed by a little less than two hours later. By contrast, Seattle's Pride Parade clocked in at nearly four hours.
Gay Pride is about celebrating diversity and paying homage to the friends and supporters of the gay community. In the face of attacks on our civil rights and simmering feelings over the new frontier of gay marriage, we should continue to partner with organizations that support our aspirations. Groups such as PFLAG and various religious communities should have a primary role in the parade.
However, the parade should incorporate a joi de vivre, an element often missing in the Seattle parade that Vancouver captures with great success and glee. Where else can you enjoy observing a bunch of studly, underwear-clad guys in cowboy hats gyrating around a fellow riding an automated bucking bronco on a flatbed truck followed by a group of marchers calling themselves the "Grouchy Old Menopausal Bitches" followed by "The Committee to Outlaw Brunch?"
So how to make sure Seattle's parade is fun?
Several observers have insisted Seattle offer a cash prize to the best float and several runners-up to encourage more creativity and outrageousness. During the Seattle parade, countless participants take the easy way out, marching in their street clothes with a sign, or sticking their head out of a car waving their hand. Eveyone should be encouraged to come in costume, like one of several elected officials in Vancouver, who showed up in a purple cowgirl suit with studded boots and kicked up her heels with a little dance every few feet.
Seattle's parade often seems to lack an attitude or point of view. Selecting a riveting theme each year that reaches beyond pride or joy might help us focus on creating a story that galvanizes our community and seizes the imagination of the public.
All views welcome
Interestingly, Vancouver's parade in the name of diversity allowed the Conservative Party to participate. The gentleman who drove the sportscar with the CP placard did not receive any boos or catcalling at our viewing spot, nor did he receive any applause. An eerie silence pervaded. Perhaps that moment was overshadowed later by an effigy of George Bush manipulating a marionette-like Stephen Harper, Canada's new prime minister. If Mike McGavick were to beat Maria Cantwell in Washington's senate race this year, would we invite him to particiapte in our parade?
The gay sports teams were missing from Vancouver's parade this year due to the final days of the OutGames held in Montreal. But there were plenty of children and families stepping out in support of Canada's gay marriage laws. I think Seattle could benefit from encouraging more alternative families to join the march and show the commitment gay couples make toward raising kids and investing in the future of our communities.
So often there is a dichotomy in the gay community between men and women who want to assimilate into a more conventional way of life and those who desire to preserve the uniqueness of gay culture with its openness to different ideas and lifestyles, its free-spiritedness and independence from the mainstream. Both Seattle and Vancouver show their face to islands of acceptance surrounded by larger geographical areas that are not convinced openly gay people are healthy, spiritually centered and deserve equal treatment.
Coming home on Sunday evening, Mark, Ed and I took the advice of a friend after learning of the 2 to 3 hour traffic delays at the Peace Arch and truck crossing. Instead, we followed a long, winding road toward an alternate crossing at Langley. The late afternoon light danced on the rural landscape as we sped past barns, grazing horses and a county fair. We sailed down O Avenue, speed bumps and all, straddling the demarcation line for the U.S./Canadian border.
Here, only 45 miles southeast of Vancouver, we saw numerous signs for Christian churches and schools and places of gathering. The country and open spaces loomed ever more beautiful in the golden expanse of early evening. We finally emerged into a short line of traffic, a gay couple allowing us right of way. I suggested to my friends, half seriously, that here is where we needed to have gay CAMP or open a bed and breakfast. We all laughed. Moments later we crossed the border back into our own country.
Capitol Hil resident Jack Hilovsky's column appears in the second issue of each month. He can be reached at editor@capitol hilltimes.com.