The small group of volunteers that pull together Victoria Pride Week every year are feeling the love.
David Tillson, director of the Victoria Pride Society, which has organized Pride Week for 16 years, said he feels safe as a gay man in Victoria.
He thinks there’s no need for the queer community to be “all stuck together” as there are a lot of people in Victoria who support the festivities.
“We as a community bring our friends and I think it’s a really great thing that they’re welcome.”
Attila Bassett, spokesperson for Paparazzi Nightclub, said he doesn’t want his club to be a place where straight people feel they don’t belong.
“Those days are gone, when it’s just open for gays,” he said.
While there are still problems in the queer community, he prefers to put them aside during Pride Week, which is his favourite time of the year.
It’s a chance to “be proud about yourself” regardless of your sexual identity, he said.
Bassett donated $26,000 out of his own pocket this year to support the Victoria Pride Society, which he applauds for keeping Pride afloat. Paparazzi is also running several contests and club nights of their own.
While Pride is a huge undertaking, the Victoria Pride Society board consists of nine unpaid members, many of whom have other jobs. So the success of the week depends on the support of other community groups and venues like Paparazzi, who put on their own events.
“We only have so much energy,” said Tillson.
The society has accumulated a small amount of money, but the rest comes from sponsorship and beer gardens throughout the year. Additional volunteers are also needed for jobs such as clean up after the parade – a task Tillson took on in past years – and to run children’s events during the Pride Festival.
Pride grew out of a yearly picnic in Beacon Hill Park in the early 1980s, and then developed into a small, rag-tag parade in 1992.
The City of Victoria denied the first parade’s organizers a permit to march on the road, so participants were forced to move onto the sidewalk.
The first procession, which travelled from City Hall to the B.C. legislature moved to Fisherman’s Wharf and then again to its current route from Government and Pandora streets to MacDonald Park. The city is now one of Pride’s biggest sponsors.
But the party has long been more than just a parade.
Marcus Tipton, a friend of Tillson, came up with the idea in 1996 to play a softball game in drag.
When Tipton died of AIDS in 2001, Tillson named it after him, and the Marcus Tipton Memorial Drag Ball Tournament becomes more of a spectacle every year, with more extravagant costumes and a bigger turnout.
Tillson thinks Pride’s success can be seen in its evolution from a small community event to one of the summer’s biggest festivals.
“I think the numbers speak for themselves”, he said.
A giant party – some highlights
Pride festivities started back in May, but they continue today (July 1) at the annual Marcus Tipton Memorial Drag Ball Game at noon in Vic West Park. This year’s theme is Superheroes versus Villains.
Saturday, July 2 – Pride and the Word – an informal coffeehouse showcasing local word-spinners and literary talents. It starts at 7 p.m. at the Ambrosia Centre. Tickets are available at the door. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 3 – The Big Gay Dog Walk – a chance for dog owners to dress up in their wildest costumes and include their pooches in the fun too. Meet at Cook Street and Dallas Road at 1 p.m. for the mini-walk.
Friday, July 8 – Homospun Youth Dance Party – for the younger set and their friends, as it’s open to youth 18 years and younger. Starts at 7 p.m. and runs until midnight at Norway House, 1110 Hillside Ave.
Saturday, July 9 – Paparazzi Diva League – the big Pride Week drag show featuring performer Gouda Gabor and go-go dancer Beau deJour. Starts at 10 p.m. at Paparazzi Nightclub. Tickets are $10 at the door.
Sunday, July 10 – Pride Parade and Festival – the parade starts at noon at the corner of Government and Pandora streets and finishes at MacDonald Park, for a festival featuring more than 100 vendors, entertainment and children’s events.
There are also several other Victoria Pride Society and community-organized events going on from now until the parade. For a full list, go to www.victoriapridesociety.org/eventlist.html