Organizers of the Vancouver Pride Parade are urging mayoral candidates to back their demand for the city to grant the annual event civic status and underpin its financial survival.
The Pride Festival – a celebration of gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender culture – attracted half a million people in 2008. But the 30 year-old parade is in trouble.
The Vancouver Pride Society (VPS), the non-profit organization that runs the event, needs more financial help from the city.
“The city is going to have to help us, otherwise they’re going to hand over a bill for $40,000 and that’s not going to make putting on the parade feasible,” said president of the VPS Ken Coolen.
“This was the first year in the three years that I’ve been in it that we’ve lost money,” said Coolen.
Civic status would not only give the parade recognition, but the city would absorb the costs for policing and engineering.
“Fencing was $11-12,000, then insurance was almost $10,000,” said Coolen, listing the society’s expenses. “The total bill was $56,000… the biggest cost was the city, even after the grants that we do get, it was almost $20,000.”
“A lot of people do not realize that we are paying the city to put on this event,” he said.
Related: Video on the meaning of Pride
Only a handful of events have been granted civic designation, one of which is the Celebration of Light fireworks competition. There is no formal application procedure, however.
“The city doesn’t have a clear template on how somebody can apply,” said Coolen. “Without a set mandate, we don’t know how to go about it.”
The policy review report from 2002 on city support for festivals and celebrations explains that civic events are ones originating in Vancouver and initiated by the City of Vancouver or in partnership.
City officials were not able to provide further information on how event organizers can apply for status. They did confirm that the City Council has the final say in event status.
The Pride Parade is considered a community-based celebration and is given up to $10,000 annually from the cultural grants program.
But for an event of its size, the dollars available are not enough.
Xtra West, an online gay and lesbian news source, raised the question of civic status for the Pride Parade at the mayoral debate on November 5th.
The Non-Partisan Association’s mayoral candidate Peter Ladner was first to answer.
“It’s of course a wonderful, wonderful thing for the city to have vibrant parades,” said Ladner. “I have to be honest, we are going to be looking desperately for ways to not spend money rather than add new money.”
“The civic status as I understand for events like the Celebration of Light is more in the range of $300-400,000,” he said. “If it’s only $30,000 it won’t be a big problem, but I am not going to make a commitment until I know.”
Vision Vancouver’s candidate Gregor Robertson was next to answer.
“There’s no question in my mind that the city needs to be more supportive of the Pride week,” said Robertson. “That it gets enough funding from the city to ensure that it comes off at least in as good a fashion as it has been.”
“If the price is $30,000, it seems given the scale and the importance, that the city should be able to make that up,” he said.
Pride and the economy
Coolen said an independent economic study of the Pride Parade was done in 2000. It showed a gain of approximately $30 million when 100,000 people attended.
According to Coolen, the number of people attending the parade has grown significantly every year, and 750,000 people are expected to attend in 2009.
“If you do the math now, we’re looking at close to $180 million,” said Coolen. “If you go down anywhere in the West End and ask them what are a couple of their largest one-day sales, the Pride Festival is going to be one of them,” he said.
Whether the city grants civic status or not, Coolen argues that more needs to be done to ensure that the people of Vancouver and beyond can continue to embrace their diversity and show the real meaning of pride at Vancouver’s Pride Parade.
(2008 Pride photo courtesy of midnightglory)