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Whistler unfurls its rainbow banners at the 20th anniversary of WinterPRIDE

Pride Week celebrates 'official' civic status



It has been 20 years in the making.

And though there have been challenges and triumphs, Whistler's gay ski week, a crucial piece of the winter economic puzzle, is now being recognized for more than just its ability to bring guests to the resort.

For with the sweep of a blue pen Whistler's mayor, Nancy Wilhelm Morden, has made it official — February 5-12 is officially Pride Week.

She will read out the proclamation on Feb.9 following the first ever WinterPRIDE march through the village.

It doesn't seem like much, just a handful of typed sentences on a white paper with the gold municipal seal. And it does join the ranks of dozens of others official days, weeks and months proclaimed by council, some of which have little real impact.

This, however, is different.

That much is evident at a retrospective gathering held at an upscale car dealership just off of the Granville Street Bridge in Vancouver last week. For the 50 or so people gathered there, some of whom were at the first gay ski week, that proclamation is everything.

Recognition. Status. Acceptance.

"It validates that the municipality takes human rights seriously," said WinterPRIDE organizer Dean Nelson of the proclamation.

"And they're putting their money where their mouth is. They're taking that extra step and saying, 'we understand that some of our guests are coming from communities where their rights might not be the same as what we're afforded here in Canada and here in Whistler, and we just want to make sure that everybody knows that they're welcomed.' That's really validating for so many people to see that, and experience it and know that the government is actually standing up and saying 'we value all human life, we value all human rights. It doesn't matter if you're gay, straight, purple, pink, blue, whatever. Everybody here is an equal citizen.'"

Homosexuality is banned in nearly 80 countries and subject to the death penalty in at least six.

When Nelson tells the crowd standing around the luxury cars that the Pride flag will fly at municipal hall for the first time ever this year, there's a swell of applause.

It continues as Nelson talks about the first ever Pride ski out from Olympic Station, followed by the inaugural Pride March through the village on Thursday Feb. 9. Following that Wilhelm Morden will be addressing the crowd and giving them her official welcome.

For Wayne Hartrick, who has watched the growth of gay ski week first hand, it's testimony to how far they've come.

"It's a real statement... that we're really as a group accepted and welcomed," says Hartrick.

"It's a real sense of feeling like... you're OK."

Whistler prides itself on being an open-minded place to live and vacation — even so Nelson has said previously that there is usually one homophobic incident each year during WinterPRIDE. In 2010 Pique reported Nelson as saying: "It (homophobia) is not normal. It is more of a one-off situation where you have new employees coming in and there might not be sensitivity to diversity issues where they come from." In 2009, a patron was leaving a bar and was "roughed up." In years past some GayWhistler signs were vandalized.

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