There are some cities in the world whose names conjure up a positive image of diversity and LGBTI acceptance: San Francisco, Sydney, London, Vancouver, Rio de Janeiro – to name just a few.
So when I arrived in Vancouver just over a year ago, I was very keen to find out how the diplomatic community was involved in Vancouver Pride and what I could do to be part of it.To my surprise however, I discovered that the local diplomatic community had never taken part.There seemed to be several reasons for this, from the consulates being small in size, to Vancouver being seen as an 'easy' city in which to be LGBTI, to the fact that no one had organised anything.
For me, none of these arguments carried any weight.Collectively, I knew we could make an impact.Vancouver may be an LGBTI friendly city, but that didn't necessarily mean it was easy for everyone.Pride is not only about celebrating how far we have come, but is also about recognising what still needs to be done.It's about supporting the LGBTI community throughout the world who live in places where their lives are infinitely more difficult than it is elsewhere.
Pride month, traditionally June, started 48 years ago as a direct result of the Stonewall Riots in New York.For many cities, the tradition has become so embedded that its origins have been somewhat lost.In many places, Pride may have become a big street party but it's still about visibility and providing a sense of belonging for those who may not have this in their everyday lives.It's about giving hope to people – whether you are watching from afar or right in the city where it takes place.But it's also about recognising those in the community who have fought so hard to get us to where we are now (and in many places there is still so far to go).
And so for me, not taking part in Pride was not an option. This is true especially in representing the UK – a country that believes in, and promotes, equality and respect for diversity.But, being that the Vancouver Consulate is a small post, it was certainly true that our team might have become lost in the march.I knew we needed to join together to create a bigger collective. So I spoke to Vancouver Pride and asked how they would feel about the idea of British Columbia's Consular Corps being represented in the parade.To my surprise, they were absolutely thrilled – it would send a positive signal at a time when Pride marches were becoming increasingly politicised.
My next task was to gauge interest among consular colleagues.And again, the positive feedback was incredible – all it took was someone to pull everyone together.From a position of not being represented, to the consular corps being out in full force on 6th August in Vancouver, we had 51 colleagues marching from 9 different countries.On the day, it was great to be marching alongside Australia, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands and the USA.
Additionally, we were joined by colleagues from VisitBritain, the UK's national tourism agency, who celebrated Pride in 16 cities across Canada, the US and Mexico and provided wonderful fans, whistles and tattoos to hand out.
In all the preparation and lead-up to Vancouver Pride, it got me thinking about two things. First, that Vancouver is lucky in that it now has a well-established Pride parade which is very much part of the city's fabric.But secondly, it made me wonder about smaller cities that are only just starting out.
That's when I read about the town of Kamloops in the interior of British Columbia.Kamloops, a town of 90,000 people, had never hosted a downtown Pride Parade, but that all changed this year with their first Pride on 20th August. I knew I had to be there, so off to Kamloops I went to lend my support.
A six hour drive there and back was entirely worth it to be part of their first ever Pride Parade.It was lively, exciting, well-supported and being part of it was an incredibly affirming experience.Seeing a Pride march in the BC interior was a very different experience and underlined even more why it is so important to lend support – to those parades that are well-established, but also to those that are just starting out.Kamloops, to me, was a wonderful picture of how diverse and supportive communities can be – we marched alongside students, pensioners, members of the local Church, local officials, and BC citizens from every walk of life.
Our pride activities connect more widely too, across our network of offices in Canada. In June, colleagues in Toronto marched in Pride and this week, as one of her first official duties, our newly arrived High Commissioner, Susan le Jeune d'Allegeershecque, will lead a team from the British High Commission in Ottawa's Pride Parade.
For my part, I'm proud to have started a new tradition in Vancouver.The Consular Corps will be out in force again next year and, based on feedback, will be even bigger and better.And so I'm looking forward to seeing you all out on the streets next Pride season – and for many more seasons to come!