Vancouver eyeing the rainbow road to host WorldPride: the biggest LGBTQ festival

Jul 12 2021, 4:41 pm

Vancouver Pride organizers are aiming high with their goal of hosting the world’s largest pride festival, but the rainbow road to get there will be a long one.

WorldPride is a globe-trotting pride festival, held in a different city for a pride season and organized by the local pride society — supplanting and significantly expanding the host city’s usual pride events, festivities, and programming, and adding a human rights conference.

The host city for WorldPride is transformed into an electric village celebrating the LGBTQ community, its annual Pride Parade is super-sized, and it becomes the beacon of the global pride festival calendar. Vancouver as the host would become the “must-visit” gay tourism destination of the year, attracting hundreds of thousands of members of the LGBTQ community from all over the globe. WorldPride is essentially the Olympics of pride festivals.

To host WorldPride, local pride societies submit a bid to InterPride, the international organization comprised of members of pride festival organizers around the world, for the rights to host the event.

In an interview, Andrea Arnot, executive director of the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS), told Daily Hive a Vancouver bid to host WorldPride is likely still 10 to 15 years away, partially because of the level of competition to host the remaining yet-to-be awarded years later this decade.

But more importantly, Vancouver Pride needs to ramp up its programming and festivities in order to have a solid chance of winning a bid. This cannot happen overnight.

“You need a longer term growth… World Pride would involve having the City of Vancouver more involved, and probably the provincial government, Tourism Vancouver, and Vancouver Hotel Destination Association. It all needs to be a coordinated thing.”

vancouver pride sunset beach festival

Vancouver Pride’s Sunset Beach Festival at the end of the Pride Parade route, 2017. (Shutterstock)

The upcoming WorldPride events are slated for Copenhagen next month, and Sydney in early 2023, which won its bid over Montreal.

The next available date is for 2025, with Rome, Los Angeles, and Kaohsiung (Taiwan) expressing interest to bid.

Over WorldPride’s first two decades, the event was held every few years, but given the recent elevated level of interest in hosting it, there could be a WorldPride event almost every year for the latter half of this decade. Orlando and Amsterdam have expressed interest in 2026, Chicago and Pretoria (South Africa) for 2027, and Boston for 2030.

WorldPride’s previous hosts include New York City in 2019, Madrid in 2017, and Toronto in 2014.

For its effort in landing WorldPride 2014, Pride Toronto partnered with Tourism Toronto, and successfully beat the only other competitor, Stockholm, in a 2009 vote amongst InterPride members.

vancouver pride parade

Vancouver Pride Parade on Beach Avenue, 2018. (Shutterstock)

To host the expanded programming meeting WorldPride calibre, Pride Toronto’s budget more than doubled from the previous year to about $4.5 million, with the City of Toronto providing organizers with a one-time public funding increase of $280,000. The rest was covered by major corporate sponsors and donors.

According to organizers at the time, WorldPride in Toronto attracted almost two million visitors over its 10-day run, and generated hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and indirect local economic spinoffs, far exceeding a typical pride season.

WorldPride held in Vancouver over the city’s usual pride period — starting in late July and ending in early August, coinciding with the BC Day long weekend — would also greatly benefit from the synergies of the city’s other peak summer events and activities, such as the Celebration of Light, in providing offerings to visitors.

As a major cruise ship homeport, there could even be synergies with the cruise industry in providing sailings that cater to the LGBTQ community and end in Vancouver during the WorldPride period.

The legacy of WorldPride in Vancouver would put VPS and its annual pride events on an elevated footing for years to come, empower individuals in the community who identify as LGBTQ, and further develop the city’s global branding and identity as an inclusive and LGBTQ-friendly city.

vancouver pride parade

Vancouver Pride Parade on Beach Avenue, 2017. (Shutterstock)

As a stepping stone towards the direction of WorldPride, says Arnot, the VPS has plans to bid for the rights to host Canada Pride in 2024. The organization’s focus will turn to the Canada Pride bid after the conclusion of this summer’s pride season, with the bid decision to be made in early 2022 by Fierté Canada Pride, the national equivalent of InterPride.

Montreal hosted the first Canada Pride in 2017, and Winnipeg was slated to host the event this year, but the event has been pushed to 2022 due to the pandemic.

“Canada Pride would amplify and make our events more grandiose for that year, but also we’d add a human rights conference. It will require additional sponsors, more events, and the hosting of a human rights conference which is not something we’d typically do,” she said.

“And if we’re successful with the bid, we’ll start planning for 2024 right away.”

Arnot says the VPS is in a strong position, with an annual budget of about $1.5 million. The organization has also benefited from federal government support announced in 2019, which allocated $1 million to each of Canada’s three largest pride organizations in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. This federal funding for enhancing and growing the pride festivals is intended to help grow Canadian tourism.

Microsoft Vancouver employees marching in the 2017 Vancouver Pride Parade on Robson Street. (Microsoft Vancouver)

VPS began having year-round staffing in 2016, and the organization is now steered by eight year-round staff. They would also normally hire eight temporary staff between May and September, but this is not being done due to their leaner programming during the pandemic.

“For a pride organization, this year-round staffing is a lot. Most pride organizations are volunteer working boards that come together, and it has only been in the last 10 years that they’ve had significant year-round staffing. This is even the case in Toronto and Montreal,” she said.

“In the past, pride has been a volunteer working board that comes together for a short time, and then during the winter they do nothing. It makes it really hard to run a non-profit and be financially sound, but we’re in a good spot right now.”

While the 2021 pride season in Vancouver will not cap off with the usual epic Pride Parade for the second year in a row, VPS is hosting over 60 in-person events and virtual experiences throughout this month leading into the BC Day long weekend.

vancouver pride parade

Vancouver Pride Parade on Beach Avenue, 2018. (Shutterstock)

Some of the highlights of this year’s programming will be a series of COVID-safe, pop-up Pride Lounges in downtown Vancouver, including at Jim Deva Plaza, Stanley Park Brewpub, and the North Plaza of the Vancouver Art Gallery. The theme for this year’s programming is to choose your own adventure for pride.

“We know that people have differing levels of comfort. Some people are vaccinated once, some are twice,” said Arnot.

“We’re offering over 60 different choices that people can do for pride, but also encourage them to celebrate in ways that are meaningful and feel safe to them. That might mean having a backyard party or marching down the sidewalk with your family while carrying flags.”

This year, there will be a “Decentralized Pride Parade” broadcast on pride’s final Sunday, featuring live hosts, roving reporters, community groups, and video submissions from the public.

Sister Festivus Illuminata at Pride Vancouver 2016 (Mikul Culver Photography/Sister Festivus Illuminata)

Sister Festivus Illuminata at Pride Vancouver 2016 (Mikul Culver Photography)

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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