By Nicole Fitzgerald
When: Feb. 4 to 11
Whistler celebrates the 15th anniversary of hosting a winter gay festival this year — the second longest continually running gay winter festival in North America.
The festival was most famously known as Gay Ski Week in years past, but this year festival heads Sean Kearns and Dean Nelson , who took up the rainbow flag festival last year, have decided to give the celebration a new name, one more reflective of what is at the heart of the festival — Pride, WinterPride.
“One of the messages that we want to get out to Pemberton, Squamish and Whistler is that this festival is about diversity,” Kearns said. “It’s about celebrating who you are: single females, heterosexuals and married couples with kids, gay people. It’s about celebrating diversity, inclusiveness. People here in Whistler take it for granted how inclusive and accepting this place is. Western Canada has grown up with so many cultures, including the gay culture, so it is a non-issue for us. That is why it is such a big deal to hammer down pride. Outside of the safe (Whistler) bubble, it’s a big deal where being gay is a disease.”
With Whistler’s multi-cultural melting pot of good will and chill vibes comes a great payoff, not only socially, but financially as well. The American gay and lesbian community represents a US $55 billion travel industry and with Americans choosing Canada as their number one destination this year, Whistler stands to benefit. Whistler was also recently rated as the fifth most popular place in Canada for gay people to travel to. A tourism study reported 76 per cent of gays and lesbians surveyed were more likely to choose a gay-friendly travel destination.
“Why spend pink dollars in a place that goes against you?” Kearns asked, referring to anti-gay legislation passed in Colorado several years ago. “Why not spend it in Whistler… which is a leader about supporting gay rights and setting an example for the rest of the world in acceptance and diversity?”