By Angus Praught
Pride is less than two months away, and the Vancouver Pride Society is getting set to welcome locals and visitors alike to celebrate!
Leading up to the first weekend of August 2017, Vancouver will be aglow with Pride as hotels fill up, party ticket sales are in overdrive, smart coiffures de rigueur and fabulous outfits galore parade the catwalk on Davie Street. When Pride season hits Vancouver and the glitziest party lineup of the year is about to kick off, you can feel the energy take over the city.
On Friday August 4th, with the Jim Deva Plaza freshly scrubbed, and the rainbow crosswalks and rainbow banners in Davie Village shining brightly, restaurants and bar patios will be fully-stocked and local residents and merchants alike will be preparing to close the streets to celebrate the start to Pride weekend, with the dazzling Davie Street Party.
The full lineup actually starts weeks before, with annual events such as East Side Pride on June 24th, and the Pride Run/Walk and Pride-Sports-Day on July 22, setting the stage for the eye-popping calendar of events that make up Vancouver Pride, including the 39th annual Pride Parade and Pride Festival at Sunset Beach.
Putting all this fabulousness together takes a dedicated team of professionals behind the scenes, year-round, and we’re going to chat with Andrea Arnot (AA) and Kieran Burgess (KB), co-executive directors of the Vancouver Pride Society, to get the inside scoop for 2017.
Angus Praught: Hello Andrea and Kieran; it’s no doubt a crazy time of year in the Vancouver Pride Society offices and we appreciate you taking the time to speak with us. Can you tell us a bit about yourselves, and what are your roles with the Vancouver Pride Society?
Andrea Arnot: I first moved to BC when I was two years old, and am originally from Ontario. I also lived in Papua New Guinea from ages ten to seventeen, which has influenced my work on diversity and inclusion. I have lived in Vancouver’s West End since 2006, and have worked with the Vancouver Pride Society since March, 2016.
Kieran Burgess: I have been in Vancouver since November 2015, and am originally from Brisbane Australia. My background is primarily in major events in northern Europe and Asia Pacific, and started with the Vancouver Pride Society about two weeks before Andrea in 2016.
AP: Can you tell us about your roles and responsibilities?
AA: I’m the fun one; ha ha! My title is co-executive director of events, and my responsibilities include managing the event side of things, including volunteers, and I oversee a team who are involved in planning our events. Our roles are very intertwined, obviously, as we’re running an organization that primarily focuses on events, but my role focuses on getting all of the permits and plans for the events done.
KB: My role primarily focuses on the budget and governance, including record keeping, bookkeeping, media partnerships, and corporate partnerships. I’m “money in” and Andrea is “money out”, so to speak.
AA: Yes, his side makes money, and my side spends it!
AP: Can you give us a sense of when the planning for each year begins and what are first steps?
AA: Yes, planning starts immediately after Pride Week. We give ourselves the Monday after Pride off, which is the holiday, and then we bring all of our staff in for the next two weeks, to distribute surveys, and check in with all of our partners, suppliers, participants and performers, about their experiences. We also gather all of the data and feedback collected, which helps our planning process and begin our permit process and decisions on events for the following year, in the fall.
KB: Yes, we start right away and within one or two weeks are already planning for next year, and looking for new partners as well. Glenn, who works in partnerships, refers to August as harvest season.
AP: What kind of official preparations need to be made; for example, with the city, police, the parks board, etc.?
AA: Well, in putting on the Pride series of events, it’s not just the parade; we do multiple events and multiple kinds of events. We work closely with the City of Vancouver, obviously, and we have civic status, which helps us with our policing, sanitation, traffic costs, and things like that. We also work with the liquor board, with the special events office, and the parks board, as our events are spread out throughout the city, so it is a very complex permitting process that we go through.
AP: It takes a large number of partners to pull this off. Can you give us an idea of the kind of partners that participate?
KB: We have our core partners, our presenting partners such as TD, and a whole host of other partners such as Fido, Microsoft, and other big name corporate partners. We then have a community partners portfolio, and partners we support through resources and financial assistance, and then we have government partners, such as federal funding, provincial funding, and the City of Vancouver. We have the size to attract that level of partnerships, so can then use that to redistribute back to smaller community partners. We also have a number of media partners, TV, radio, print and digital, across a number of formats. We have partnerships with Global, CTV, Bell Media, Rogers, Corus; we work with all of them, as well as major radio stations and have good relationships with most media outlets in the city.
AP: Coordinating the Parade and Festival participants is a huge undertaking. Can you speak briefly about this process?
AA: Well yes, one thing that a lot of people do not know, is that we have a parade working group, made up of myself, and community members, and we review every single parade application that comes in. This year we developed a matrix to score each application to ensure that we have our strongest allies in the parade, so we score the entries based on what their entry looks like, how fun and energetic it will be, but mostly on what their organizational values are and how they align with the Vancouver Pride Society’s, as well as what other initiatives they engage in throughout the year, whether internally within their own organization, or outside in the LGBTQ community. We also check if they have policies and procedures in place around inclusive hiring practices, diversity statements, if they include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression as something they do not discriminate against, and if they have anti-discrimination and anti-bullying policies; so we ask for actual policies from organizations, to ensure that they are in fact, allies marching in the parade. It is quite an involved process to review each application, and so that’s how people get into the parade.
KB: Another thing to say about it, is there is always a controversy every year. For example, last year we started a discussion about police in the parade, and we [have released] a statement to that effect, that outlines our way forward for this year, and the preface for that is that it is an ongoing conversation year to year, so the decisions made this year aren’t forever, but are our steps for this year.
AA: We are not partisan, but we are definitely political, like Pride is political inherently, and so we have done things in the past, like our Trans Equality Pledge, which was not popular with some people, but we persisted with that, and will continue with that until Bill C-16 is passed, and so we do engage in advocacy and politics, but we are not partisan.
AP: It also takes a large team of volunteers to put on the parade. Can you give us an idea of how many volunteers it takes and what they do?
AA: We definitely rely on volunteers to make our events happen, as we have a small staff of four in our off season, and ten or eleven during our full season, so that’s not a lot to put on the scale of events that we do. On Parade and Festival day alone, we have 200 volunteers and throughout our whole season, we have approximately 350 to 400 volunteers that we engage, which is basically June through August.
AP: Can you give us a brief overview of Vancouver Pride in this 39th year, and a hint of what’s new this season?
KB: There are no major changes to the parade route, but we are bringing back Pride-Sports-Day, which was formerly the Pride Picnic in the Park, and it will be at Sunset beach, rather than the park and it will be a week earlier, on July 22nd. We have renamed the Legacy Awards the StandOut Awards, with the same premise, but with new categories and have revamped it to try to tap into the younger people who are doing good work in our community. The old categories were very restrictive, so this is our way of opening up to a whole new pool of candidates to receive awards. Pride Premiere is a new event that will take place in Robson Square, with a community zone up top, and down below will be a beer garden with entertainment, which is sort of an introduction to Pride for the downtown crowd. The Pride Proclamation location is TBD at this point, and there will be Pride Gateway in Jim Deva Plaza for the whole Pride Week, from the first fireworks on Saturday, through the final Sunday night of Pride. It will have these cool things called cloud swings, an interactive lighted Pride obelisk, as well as other events in the plaza throughout the week. In addition to all of the regular events, we will also have a Pride movie night on Tuesday, a yet-to-be-confirmed new event for Wednesday night, a human rights panel with the Canadian International Council on Thursday to discuss LGBTQ2+ immigration issues, and the BC Lions will be playing a Pride Game on the Sunday afternoon, in addition to the Parade and Festival. We are also partnering with the West End BIA and the Downtown BIA on some of the new initiatives.
AA: We are really excited to be hosting the Pride Premiere event downtown for the first time this year. As Kieran mentioned, we are having the beer garden and entertainment on the lower level, and at street level we’re having a pop-up Queer 101 party for the public, we will have our community partners there with educational resources and interactive games, we’ll have roaming performers, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence will be there, we’ll have drag performers, and some interactive art installations, such as the love bus, and the pink ball pit where anyone can go in, not just children. We’re excited to be out of the west end for that event, and be right downtown in the middle of people shopping and going home from work, so we can have an evening showing this is what we are, and this is what we do.
AP: Well congratulations to you both on all you do, and that certainly is a lot to be excited about this year. Thank you both very much for giving us an insider’s peak of Vancouver Pride 2017. Happy Pride!
AA & KB: Happy Pride!
2017 is shaping up to be the most spectacular Vancouver Pride season ever and there is so much going on, that we can’t possibly include it all here. Feel free to visit vancouverpride.ca, for all the sensational details.
Angus Praught is president of Gayvan.com Travel Marketing, a Vancouver-based company featuring LGBTQ2+ welcoming destinations, in the Vancouver region, Canada, and beyond.
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