On Friday, September 6, UBC hosted UBC Pride which featured resource booths, activities and performances. Before the event took place, many UBC community members expressed cynicism, considering the university’s recent track record with the LGBTQIA2S+ community. We sent a few writers to attend the events and share their thoughts.
I didn’t have much to compare UBC Pride to, considering it was my first ever Pride event, but I left with mixed feelings.
The event certainly helped me find out about the resources UBC has on campus for the community. These included the non-UBC affiliated Pride library in the AMS Nest called Out on the Shelves that I had no clue about and getting the chance to talk to the very passionate folks at SVPRO.
It was wonderful to see the LGBTQIA2S+ community and allies come together in a celebration of love and the event as a whole was good-spirited.
While the voguing and drag were fun, I wonder if that is for everyone. I wonder what Pride is for introverts and quieter people who may not find the same kind of confidence voguing helps give to some others.
Despite the positives, it felt like UBC may just have been compensating for what happened a couple months ago when it was disinvited from Vancouver Pride, with the effort seeming a little half-hearted, from UBC’s side.
I think it was a cute event, but I don’t know whether it was ‘meaningful’ for me as I’m still navigating the ins and outs of Queer culture.
After hearing that there might be potential security risks at UBC Pride, I was a little worried as to how the event would turn out. As I headed towards Fairview Commons and saw groups of people holding signs outside the event, I felt my stomach drop. But then I saw the Rainbow and Trans flags, and after taking a closer look, saw that the words on the signs were in support of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. People from the community had come together to deter any protestors from interfering with the event. On top of that, UBC Pride was relatively secure — the area was fenced, there was a mandatory bag check, as well as a fair amount of security presence.
Thankfully, the event passed by without incident. UBC Pride was well-organized and vibrant with a good range of activities — the voguing dance lessons were particularly memorable. But to me, the best part of Pride was the lively atmosphere. It was a genuinely fun event, and although it felt like a response to being disinvited from the Vancouver Pride Parade, I hope UBC hosts it again next year.
I’ve learned to check myself. Am I too lispy? Can they hear it in my voice? My speech is gay crud, earwax itching for a cotton swab. Don’t bring your hand to your mouth when you gasp, oh crap, I’m gesturing too much. I’m too flamboyant. Keep your hands still. They can’t think I’m girly, or worse, gay. It’s an old habit now, but I still have to hide sometimes.
UBC Pride was my antithesis. With its noisy rainbow decorations and its speakers even louder, drawing out more than a few winces, UBC Pride demanded attention.
Sidewalk decals showed off what UBC has done for LGBTQIA2S+ folks, beaming up from my feet, proud. But is UBC proud of allowing transphobic speakers on campus who call us damaged goods? Free speechers who seek to deny us rights we continue to fight for? Their fingers impatiently mash the volume-down button, desperate to silence us. “Those who argue against us are blocking free expression, so you stay quiet now,” they say. “Let us speak over you.”
They didn’t show up to the event.
On stage, the bold individual giving a workshop on how to vogue told us that flicking our hands was stylistically crucial. We could imagine our hands as fluid as a stream, or floppy, like beagle ears, our wrists out of service. What do you want to be: water or broken wrists? I picked the latter. I was afraid of my hands working that way.
I probably looked like a fool, all jagged edges. But I loved it.
It’s always been a pleasure watching videos of people voguing, but I didn’t expect that doing it would be just as delightful. I was proud. My hands were liberated from the shackles that I’d shamefully forced on them when I was younger.
In the recent past, the university seems to have forgotten what Pride is. Pride is a clenched fist held high above our heads, a beacon, a warning that we will never stop fighting against ongoing systemic discrimination.
UBC Pride wasn’t that. Rather, the event was eager open arms, hoping I’d forgotten past transgressions, an incoming hug that would smother me. I interrupted with my outstretched hand. Not tense, but firm. Let’s shake instead. I won’t forget that easily.
Upon hearing the news that UBC was hosting an official Pride event, I was of course equally excited and scared. I knew that I was going to claw my way to the front of the crowd to participate in the voguing workshop — where, to my deep misfortune, I discovered that my hips do lie, since they met almost none of the beats of the house songs being blasted through the towering speakers — and that I would show up in a colourful outfit suitable for such a celebratory occasion, and so that I would properly fit in with what was sure to be a horde of people in rainbow-coloured clothing. And while I ended up wearing a green shirt and blue jeans, I realised that I wouldn’t have needed the colourful clothes to fit in.
Walking along the stalls, seeing all the Queer people with glitter painted on their faces, like shooting stars across a rosy sky; putting my nose in a book on LGBTQIA2S+ resistance and revolution alongside other bookworms looking to connect to a history of brave and proud leaders; accidentally slapping and bumping into my neighbours while trying my best to twirl my hands and give a whole lot of face. In these small moments, I felt a joy without any shame or self-conciousness. I felt part of a larger community, sharing a deep bond with every drag performer, slam reader, boother and fellow onlooker walking under a mighty art installation.
And yet, despite all of this, everywhere I looked, I was met with high fences. Their purpose was reasonable — protection from individuals and groups who would look upon our happiness with hate and disdain. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder how UBC, such a wealthy and powerful institution, could only do this much for the Queer community on campus, especially considering its actions regarding allowing bigoted speakers and events on campus. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised at the small-scale of the event, or at the fact that attendees had to pay for food (of which there were very few options), or that despite UBC unfailingly exulting itself on being a safe space for all Queer students, I could still see the judgmental looks of passersby leering at our celebrations through the fence.
After all, UBC has behaved no differently to other institutions who have have hosted Pride events — leaving the heavy lifting, organising and actual task of creating a space of inclusion to the actual Queer community, and then taking the credit for it.
I attended this event with some reservation in my mind — what with past controversy surrounding UBC’s decision to let a transphobic speaker hold an event on campus and the possibility that certain alt-right groups could attend. Though I’m glad to say my concerns were allayed once I walked in. Pride holds a very special meaning to me, so it meant a lot to see a diverse group of this magnitude celebrating the LGBTQIA2S+ community in one space. As a Queer person of colour, I’ve always craved a sense of belonging not always found in some of my own communities. To come together and appreciate the beauty of all our own lived experiences, which I felt was particularly showcased through performances like spoken-word poetry and drag, was a powerful feeling. Part of the event reflected on the importance of this moment as one station was designed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. Along the fence were messages of support or letters written by visitors. Thinking about my own message, I started to think about all the people in my life who supported me along the way and who’ve made me feel unconditionally loved.
I think it’s no mistake that UBC Pride took place within a 10-minute walking distance of all the first-year residences. It felt like an orientation, an introductory class into Pride for those unfamiliar with this territory. I was unable to stay for the whole event, but what I saw struck me as a mainly surface level and imprecisely organized celebration. The drag, poetry and other performances struggled to make an impact on the awkward small stage in the middle of a large field. Surrounding the edges were booths set up by organizations with varying levels of rights to be there. While some services, like SVPRO, could be valuable resources for members of this community at UBC, many others seemed to be there as allies just for the sake of being allies. The fact that UBC Pride did not particularly impress me may speak to the privilege I have, regularly being able to participate in Queer spaces and events and exist in an accepting wider community in this tolerant city. I have already seen everything that UBC Pride had to offer, but how lucky am I that I can say that? I’m sure many newcomers to both Pride events and UBC were excited to see their school so openly supportive of this community. While I may scoff at what I see as UBC making a shallow attempt to appeal to our community, for some that may be the deepest respect an institution has ever shown them.
UBC holds a list of welcoming events for students to kick start the new academic year. UBC Pride is a unique one in terms of cultural significance; it provided a much-needed opportunity for the community to foster an inclusive culture and encourage love and acceptance.
Before entering the event, the first thing I noticed while walking on Main Mall was a colourful rainbow balloon arch near the entrance. Then I was soon attracted by the convivial atmosphere and exciting vibes emitted by affable fellows of the festivals. Smiles, colourful decorations and melodious music alleviated my concerns as I was pondering how to fit in as a “hyper-introverted” person. Games, such as hula-hooping and paper crane creation, encouraged proactive participation while providing space for quiet people. The collective effort of folding paper cranes reminds me that much collaborative work that can be done when it comes to raising awareness of the LGBTQAI2S+ community in Vancouver.
Booths offered important information regarding available resources within the campus. Workshops, ranging from a sparkle station to voguing dance, provided us possible ways to express ourselves with confidence — the first step towards love and acceptance. The highlight among these activities was the drag performances. The traits of beauty and courage displayed by drag performers, with their perplexing pace, dizzying energy, spectacular decorations and meticulous performance, are expressions of positive and confident affirmation of their identities. They signify the possibility of amplifying voices of people who have marginal presence in the mainstream culture. In these artists, I saw courage, tenacity and devotion. Many thanks to UBC Pride. Together, we can work towards a positive and supportive space for everyone within the Thunderbird community.
In its second installment, UBC Pride outdid itself by celebrating exactly what I’d hoped it would: love and passion that is accepting of both LGBTQIA2S+ community members and allies alike. Taking place at the end of an exhausting first week under the still-bright glow of the Friday sun, the colorful tents and their vibrant boothers donned excited smiles as they shared their experiences or resources for people looking to feel welcome on campus.
Although the atmosphere was laced with the slight disappointment of not being included in Vancouver Pride this year, almost everyone was happy that they still had an opportunity to celebrate being themselves on campus this year. This showed in the enthusiasm displayed by drag artists like BamBam and Madoria, as well as the raw emotions that slam artists like Spillious and Holden Wall brought to the stage. Holding up the energy on stage was also bits of stories brought to the event by Sister Fancy Pants that tackled real narratives of marginalized Queer groups. But most importantly, the crowd’s energy and encouragement really tied the whole display together.
The entire gathering seemed like a very genuine and welcoming space for people of all ages and from all walks of life, which was definitely appreciated by almost everyone I had the opportunity to interact with. With the inclusion of tents from the library displaying Queer literature and several rounds of sexuality Jeopardy!, overall UBC Pride also delivered on its promise of being informative. While my experience was thoroughly enjoyable, I did hope to see more representation from communities in the spectrum that aren’t the most vocal on campus — such as Ace Space — or a larger display of some sort, such as a Pride march on Main Mall. Although the containment of the event was unfortunate, it did end up working in our favor by creating a small bubble of optimism that I thoroughly cherished.
And so, UBC Pride continues to set the benchmark for future collective events on campus.
If I left the house this summer, I either was dressed up pretending to be the woman I used to be, or I was being myself in Queer spaces. I grew comfortable being myself, comfortable in the spaces I started inhabiting and the summer routines I built, spending time with people who were like me. As school time came back around, I grew increasingly anxious about returning. In classes, my voice betrays my name. Within the institution I am told to jump through hoops to fulfill simple requests. I am reminded of my ‘otherness.’
Prior to attending the event, I was self-conscious of giving UBC what I thought it wanted: a smiling photo of a trans person. A photo to put on pamphlets to say “We’ve put our issues in the past” and not do anything more. I had many conversations on the event’s merits, on whether it was worth giving UBC what it wanted.
The colourful overhangs and piercingly loud drag performances were nice, and I know that those are important. What I liked most was being reminded that this is a community. Seeing other people who are like me, talking to people who feel the same way as me. While I may often feel isolated and scared, I am comforted and assured by my community. While our institution may use us for photo ops, at least I am smiling with my friends who I met here.
I will never absolve UBC for what it has done against the LGBTQIA2S+ community. I’m holding this event as a covenant, a promise to do right by their public commitment to inclusion. We’ll see if they can further rise to the occasion.