British Columbia

As Vancouver Pride Festival kicks off online, organizers find silver linings in going virtual

One of the most anticipated parades of the year won't be happening this week but organizers of the Vancouver Pride Parade and Festival aren't letting COVID-19 dull its shine.

'Pride can't be cancelled ... it's actually a feeling inside of ourselves,' society director says

Thousands of people lined the streets to watch the parade in Vancouver’s West End in 2019. This year, because of COVID-19, the parade and festival will be a virtual event. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

One of the most anticipated parades of the year won't be happening this week but organizers of the Vancouver Pride Parade and Festival aren't letting COVID-19 dull its shine.

The festival will go ahead starting Monday with a lineup of more than 30 online events, including anti-racism workshops, drag shows and a virtual parade.

It's not what organizers envisioned, but Andrea Arnot, executive director of Vancouver Pride Society, says there is an upside to holding a virtual event.

"The beautiful thing with going digital is that we can spread our message further afield, so we can have people watching from around the world who wouldn't normally get to come to the Vancouver Pride Parade," she said.

"So there is some silver lining, even though it is challenging and a little bit sad to not be taking up that space."

Around 500,000 people usually attend Pride week events, Arnot said.

Support and resilience

Andy Holmes, a PhD student at the University of Toronto, said this is likely the first year ever that Pride parades have had to go virtual.

Holmes studies the history of Pride parades in Canada and how they began as a protest against police brutality before morphing into a celebration of the LGBTQ community today.

The downside of having the parade online, he said, is that participants won't have the same opportunity to physically be among thousands of people supporting each other. 

A participant in the 2019 Vancouver Pride Parade. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

"Pride parades continue to be ways to express for those in the community who do not always have the comfort or the ability to showcase who they are," Holmes said.

"I think that there's a special thing that happens when you see thousands of other people celebrate and commemorate that process."

This year, all large events in B.C. are either cancelled or forced to reinvent themselves as online celebrations. Holmes believes having the festival continue shows how the LGBTQ community is resilient in its activism and creative in adapting to adversity.

But Arnot said Canada still has a long way to go in celebrating diversity and fostering a sense of inclusion, belonging and safety for everyone.

While it's difficult not being able to physically gather and claim space in Vancouver's streets, Pride isn't confined to a week-long event anyway, she said. 

"Pride can't be cancelled, it can just be re-imagined ... it's actually a feeling inside of ourselves," Arnot said.

"We can have that pride no matter where we are, who we're spending Pride with. Whether it's our little social isolation bubbles or by ourselves connecting online with folks, that pride is in all of us."

With files from Marc-Antoine Belanger

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