Power in unity: Coming together this pride season

Pride is a celebration today because of the people before us who advocated for gay and trans rights

KPU, Sher Vancouver, and QMUNITY are participating in this year's Vancouver Pride Parade. (Submitted/Ryan Judd)

KPU, Sher Vancouver, and QMUNITY are participating in this year’s Vancouver Pride Parade. (Submitted/Ryan Judd)

Coming out can be one of the most liberating and freeing moments, but it can also be one of the most challenging. 

Children and adults are often told they must behave a specific way to fit into society’s definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity. If someone is rejected for their identity or expression, it can significantly impact their mental health and wellbeing. 

2SLGBTQ+ people are still targeted for their real or perceived orientation or gender identity worldwide. However, Pride not only celebrates people’s true colours, individuality, and accomplishments, but it also commemorates years of struggle for civil rights and the ongoing human rights issues the community still faces today. 

Pride Month is a month of celebration usually held in June or July for the two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning communities in cities all over the world with tons of events like parades, marches, and festivals. Pride Month kicks off Pride Season, a term which refers to many different Pride events that occur over the summer, running from June to September. 

At Kwantlen Polytechnic University, 24 per cent of students identified as asexual, bisexual, gay, Indigiqueer, lesbian, pansexual, queer, or unsure/questioning in a 2020 survey, and four per cent of students are transgender, non-binary, or gender-questioning in a 2021 survey. 

With the celebration of Pride comes a history of how it came to be.


History of Pride 

Pride Month is celebrated in honour of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City, the event that sparked modern LGBTQ+ civil rights movements across the United States and Canada. 

The Stonewall Riots started when police attempted to raid a popular gay bar but were met with resistance and defeated the police’s attempt in the early hours of June 28, 1969.  

Exactly one year later, thousands of people marched in the streets of New York City from the Stonewall Inn to Central Park for America’s first Pride parade known as Christopher Street Liberation Day. There were also marches in Boston, Minneapolis, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. 

Pride also honours the people who paved the way for 2SLGBTQ+ activism, such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera — both trans women of colour — among many others. 

Similarly to the U.S., Canada has a unique Pride history too. 

In 1971, the first gay rights protests started in Vancouver and Ottawa, with demonstrators demanding an end to state discrimination towards gays and lesbians. 

In 1981, Canada experienced its own version of Stonewall known as “Operation Soap.” On Feb. 5, at 11:00 pm, Toronto police raided four bathhouses and arrested almost 300 men. The next day, 3,000 people gathered in protest, smashing car windows and setting fires. Eventually training programs were created for the Toronto police on how to interact with the LGBTQ+ community. 

Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal were just a few of the cities leading the way in LGBTQ+ rights. The first “unofficial” Pride parade was held in Vancouver in 1978, and it wasn’t until 1981 that Vancouver and Montreal became the first Canadian cities to host an official Pride march and festival

Over the next two decades, there were several legal victories. In 1982, Canada adopted the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which became the foundation for future equality decisions. In 1985, the rights to equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination came into effect, although it did not include sexual orientation until 1995. In British Columbia, Svend Robinson was the first member of parliament to come out as gay in 1988. 

Throughout the 1990s, some positive gay legislation passed in Canada. In 1992, the federal court lifted the ban on gays and lesbians from serving in the military. In 1994, a Supreme Court ruling allowed gays and lesbians to apply for refugee status if facing persecution in their country of origin. In 1999, same-sex couples were given the same rights as opposite-sex couples in common-law relationships. 

In the early 2000s, gay publications were given protection under freedom of speech in the Charter, same-sex marriage was ruled as a violation of the Charter rights in 2003 in B.C. with other provinces following similarly in the years after. 

Some key bills passed in the last decade include the protection of discrimination based on gender identity or expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act and as hate speech in the Criminal Code, and the criminalization of conversion therapy just last year — the third and final attempt to pass such legislation.


Celebrating Pride today

After two years off the streets due to pandemic restrictions, the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) is back with the theme “Together Again.” Virtual programming will still be available, including the Pride proclamation and flag rising ceremony on July 25 and the Queer History Panel on July 26. 

The Vancouver Pride Parade is part of Pride Week, a week at the end of July that celebrates the city’s 2SLGBTQ+ community, the advocacy for gay and transgender rights, and to recognize the impact the community has had on society locally, nationally, and internationally. 

During Pride Week, some events include an online discussion of Vancouver queer history, a series of pop up partnered lounges, and Drag Deliveries, a drag road crew going around Vancouver to perform trivia and giveaways to random people. The parade will be held on July 31 and will start from Robson street to Sunset Beach, where the festival will be after. 

Lee Keple, the interim executive director for VPS, says the theme is “Together Again” to celebrate the importance of in-person events in the community. 

“We asked everyone online what they wanted our theme to be and the responses were overwhelmingly about connection. We chose ‘Together Again’ and that is really energizing our efforts and [has] been a focal point,” wrote Keple in an email statement to The Runner

During the pandemic, Keple says the organization learned about the importance of accessibility from virtual Pride events, and many people appreciated being able to enjoy activities and connect with others online. 

For in-person events throughout the summer, they say the VPS is recommending people wear masks so that it stays accessible for everyone. While excited for events being in-person again, Keple adds that it’s important that everyone be able to celebrate Pride. 

“While a lot of folks may think of pride as a parade and celebration, it’s also about [the] inter-stiching of this amazing broad community,” they wrote. 

In the Pride Parade, KPU will be one of the post-secondary institutions featured. 

According to the President’s Diversity and Equity Committee (PDEC) April meeting minutes, KPU’s Pride Advocacy Group (PAG) applied to be part of the parade. They will be doing the Toonie Brigade again and volunteers are needed. 

“I’m looking forward to it, it’ll be an outdoor event,” says Romy Kozak, director of PDEC. “People will be glad to see each other again.” 

PAG was created in 2020 by Kozak and Shalini Vanan, manager of sport, recreation and health promotion, because they wanted to create a stronger presence of Pride and support 2SLGBTQ+ students at KPU. It consists of 10 volunteers, but they are always looking for more students to join. The group also attended Surrey Pride on June 25, alongside the Kwantlen Student Association. 

“We thought it would be good to bring people together on campus because we know that there’s lots of 2SLGBTQ+ on campus, to talk about having a more audible voice that could bring awareness to the needs [and] priorities of 2SLGBTQ+ employees and students,” Kozak says. 

When PAG submitted their application, Kozak says KPU felt it’s important to support students and employees in connecting with the community around Metro Vancouver and to demonstrate the university’s belief in equal rights, justice, and love. 

It’s important for post-secondary institutions to participate in Pride because they have an important role in how we think in the world, they say. 

“Community engagement for post-secondary institutions is really important. We have to break down that perception [of] being separate from the community.” 

“We have a really important role to play in the community in terms of standing up for all sorts of justice, including gender justice,” Kozak says.

“We have a responsibility to our students to allow them to create a link and invite them to participate in these types of events, and to demonstrate to our students and employees where we stand on these types of issues, [and] where we stand in terms of 2SLGBTQ+ rights.” 

Year round, PAG advocates for KPU students in the community, such as updating the Student Information Change form to make it easier for students to correct their gender on their record, working with facilities to have gender-neutral washrooms, and advocating for the progressive pride flag paintings on the campuses

The group also helped establish the Pride Advocacy Award, which is presented to an individual who self-identifies as 2SLGBTQ+ and has shown commitment to activism at KPU or in their own communities. 

In addition, Kozak says criminology instructor Tara Lyons is researching the experiences of 2SLGBTQ+ KPU students. They say it will help PAG learn more about what needs to be done to support students further. The group is also developing a video presentation that will feature KPU students speaking about what they need that faculty can show at the beginning of their classes to support classroom safety. 

Sher Vancouver will be in the Pride Parade bringing back the Pride of Bollywood VII float since 2017. Sher is a non-profit organization for 2SLGBTQ+ South Asians and their allies in Metro Vancouver that offers peer support groups, crisis counselling, outreach workshops, and creates impactful films representing the community. 

Alex Sangha, founder of Sher, says their board member Annie Ohana is one of the Grand Marshalls for the parade this year and thought it was the perfect opportunity to bring back the float. 

“This float is a huge flatbed truck decorated in the South Asian colours. Behind it, it has drag queens wearing saris and international costumes,” Sangha says. “It’s just fabulous to see such great queer South Asian representation at the Vancouver Pride Parade.”


There is still work to be done

For Sangha, there are a lot of challenges and pressure for the queer South Asian community, like the cultural expectations of getting married, having children, family honour, and internalized homophobia.  

“There’s a lot of potential for rejection and oppression,” he says. “You’re living in these extended family homes, and it’s very difficult for someone in the same-sex relationship, non-binary, or trans … how do they fit into that family model without being rejected?” 

Pride is important because it’s important to be proud of who you are and be surrounded by people similar to you, Sangha says. 

 “To come out of the closet, it takes courage, bravery, pride, [and] strength,” he says. “For a lot of queer people, they’re invisible in the media, in school, at the workplace. You celebrate Pride Month once a year, and they finally get some visibility and representation.” 

“It’s not easy to feel good about who you are when there’s hatred in this world. Pride makes you feel good and that the world loves you and you have a big team of people behind you.” 

For Michael Robach, communications and development manager at QMUNITY, Pride is about raising education and awareness. 

“It’s for raising awareness of all the different identities that exist under the ‘rainbow umbrella,’” Robach says. “Especially in mainstream media, we see so much of cis white gay men, that they make up such a small portion of the community that we serve. So it’s important to recognize all the different identities that exist.” 

QMUNITY is a Vancouver non-profit organization that provides a safe space for the 2SLGBTQ+ community and offers services like peer support groups, free counselling, access to gender-affirming chest wear, and host inclusive events. 

Robach says QMUNITY will be part of the Pride Parade and is excited to be able to connect in-person again with the community. 

He says this year QMUNITY is focusing on provincial outreach to show that they help everyone in the province. 

“COVID really showed us that people who live in rural areas … are very isolated. You’re surrounded by people who discriminate, aren’t educated, don’t necessarily understand different languages and notions of identity,” Robach says. “Those are the people that need our programs the most, but they don’t necessarily know about them.” 

While there has been some progress in Canada with gay and trans rights, Keple says they hope to see more positive changes on a municipal level. 

 “Fly your flag Ladner, Burnaby, Surrey, and Squamish. This year, I don’t want to see any backsliding. I’m cautiously optimistic with some of the progress we’ve seen,” they say. “We’re here, we’re queer.” 

Sangha says he would like to see more queer people elected in Canada, and to see more positive changes for gay and trans rights as well. 

“Unless we break the glass ceiling and get into positions of power, it can be very difficult for people to have their interests or voices heard, or for them to be represented,” he says

Robach also says there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done like providing more services, making them more accessible, and for governments to provide more funding for queer organizations.  

“For gay rights, the importance of recognizing that so much of the community gets tokenized…. They’re not even scratching the surface of the need for funding to increase capacity for organizations like us to do the work we do,” he says.  

“Globally, I think it’s always important to celebrate Pride so that there’s a continual reminder, whether you identify as 2SLGBTQAI+ or whether you’re an ally or curious to learn about the shared history of queer liberation, and our histories, our struggles, and our values,” Keple says.