New Westminster Pride event balloons in size

Royal City Record, 16 August 2011 By Brent Richter

Organizers of New Westminster's 2011 Pride Week events were hoping to get a better turnout in the celebration's second year and, brother, they got it.

"It was beyond our wildest expectations. We're over the moon and happy that it keeps growing. It's growing faster than we expected," said Andre Hall, Royal City Pride Society president. "I think there was about 1,500 people in the park over the day."

Better weather, bigger musical acts, more publicity and more help from sponsors helped draw the crowds, according to Nancy Kato, the society's communications director.

"We thought it was absolutely fabulous. It was a huge turnout," Kato said.

Turnout for pride was in the lower hundreds in the inaugural year in 2010.

Pride Week 2011 consisted of 10 events over four days including a dance, meet-and-greet, brunches and barbecues, a stage show, the "Hill in Heels" march up the Sixth Street hill in high heels for charity, an official proclamation at city hall recognizing pride week and a pride party in Tipperary Park.

"Every event was packed. There was not one event that was slow," Hall said.

A Highlight of this year's event for Hall was the amount of support coming from local and politicos and police including New Westminster MLA Dawn Black and New Westminster-Coquitlam MP Fin Donnelly, some provincial government representatives including Premier Christy Clark's outreach worker and former CTV anchor Pamela Martin, as well as a couple cabinet ministers.

"I'm also happy that the mayor came back from his vacation that day to do the proclamation and to celebrate with us. It's astonishing that he did that," Hall said. "The police were beyond amazing. I can't say enough about the police and the City of New Westminster itself. It was beyond our expectations again."

Unlike last year, when a Christian protestor turned up armed with a microphone and an anti-gay message, this year only saw supporters come out for fun, Hall said.

"It was quite smooth. There were no incidents, no protests. The biggest thing I noticed was everyone was smiling and having a good time. There were kids there, elderly people. Even a homeless guy asked if he could help clean up with us," he said.

Kato said the Hill in Heels marchers were able to raise about $1,500, which will be donated to the New Westminster Lookout Emergency Aid Society.

The spike in popularity means Kato and Hall are planning an even bigger event for 2012, which has already been themed, "Let your colours reign."

Hall said instead of having to turn partiers away from the evening events, he hopes to hold more dances and events to make sure everyone can be included. He said he hopes to move the pride party in the soon-to-be completed Westminster Pier Park next year as well.

"Huge, huge, huge" thanks are owed to the city, the community and the events sponsors, Hall and Kato both said.

"I'm proud to live in the city and be part of the community," Hall added.

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