Sunday, July 30, 2006


Gay community divided over trademarking of 'Pride'

VANCOUVER (CP) - Canada's gay and lesbian organizations want to trademark the word Pride, leading to a fight that is taking on Olympic proportions among gay activists.

Vancouver transsexual Jamie Lee Hamilton was told earlier this summer she would have to take out a membership in the Vancouver Pride Society in order to use the word to promote two events she is hosting during Vancouver's Pride festivities, which will continue throughout this week.

"I was sent a letter informing me that I could not use the word Pride," she said. "That did not sit well with me because I believe it's owned by all of us. To say only certain people can use the word is stupid."

Hamilton's events are ManPride and TrannyPride, an event for transsexuals and transvestites.

While she has paid $65 to the society for both an individual and a corporate membership, she calls the charge "obscene."

She will be in the Aug. 6 Pride Vancouver parade with a group protesting the attempt to trademark the concept.

The issue is similar to the International Olympic Committee's policing of the use of the word Olympic or any Games logos.

The move to trademark Pride was spearheaded by Pride Toronto, the largest Pride organization in the country and the one with the most resources.

Natasha Garda, the group's co-chair, said the group hopes to have the issue wrapped up by the end of the year.

She said the move was made "to protect the trademark against for-profit individuals or companies exploiting it in the queer market," Garda said.

"If we don't do that, there's a long line of people who are quite eager to get their hands on that trademark and licence it for thousands and thousands of dollars back to us."

Garda said Canada's Pride committees, which are best known for hosting flamboyantly colourful parades in many Canadian cities, also want to ensure that anyone who uses the word Pride pays fees to support the organizations.

The Vancouver Pride society posted a notice on its website May 28 stating: "The word Pride is a registered trademark held by Fierte Canada Pride of which the Vancouver Pride Society is a member and licensed user. The VPS may, at our discretion, permit the use of the word Pride in all its forms associated with advertising and promotions within the district and surrounding promotional areas of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada."

Brad West, president of Fierte, the national Pride umbrella group, could not be reached for comment.

Hamilton argued Pride events around the world are in celebration of the gay rights movement and its successes and not about marketing.

"There's a lot of angst over a select group wanting to trademark a liberation movement. It would be like trying to trademark Christmas or the civil rights movement. It just can't be done," Hamilton said.

"I would like to think that the gay freedom movement has not come to a place that it makes decisions by autocratic rule," said Hamilton, who ran unsuccessfully for Vancouver city council last year.

"I like to think they want to act in the interests of all of the community. They're doing it for purely economic reasons and that's the obscenity of it."

But John Boychuk, president of the Vancouver Pride Society, said the move is to prevent businesses from being "gay for a day" and not giving anything back to the community.

He said the move is solely to protect the interests of the gay community.

"Over the last few years, we've noticed an increase in businesses that have chosen to make a buck off the gay businesses or the gay organizations that put together events that are like festivals or parades," he said.

Boychuk said people buy items from such companies but nothing winds up in the various pride organizations' coffers to benefit the gay community.

"At the end of the day, it's up to the local organizations to enforce or to not enforce use of the word Pride," he said. "The idea is to ensure that Pride remains a community-based word that allows us to be able to ensure that nobody is gay for a day."

Hamilton and the anti-trademark protesters, however, have the support of Jim Deva, owner of Little Sister's Book & Art Emporium which has been fighting book seizures by Canada Customs for two decades.

"I don't think the Vancouver Pride Society board was elected to be the Pride police," he said. "The whole concept of this Pride policing is not healthy at all. It will not increase diversity. Some people will be acceptable and other people won't. I find that the dangerous sort of part of the whole thing."

Deva suspects the situation will wind up in court.

"You can't trademark something as important as pride. It's almost medicinal for our community and it's something that should be encouraged," Deva said.

Moreover, he said, if a corporation wants to promote gay and lesbian pride, it is in the best interests of the gay and lesbian community for it to do so.

"You shouldn't need a seal of approval in order to do it," Deva said.

Micheal Vonn, of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, called the situation "intuitively troubling."

"It's not the usual form of censorship," she said. "It is a term in common public parlance."

"To say we will be the gatekeepers of a term, it is niggling from a civil libertarian standpoint."

The concept of trademarks has been in the news frequently in Vancouver in recent years.

The operator of a Vancouver pizzeria was told in 2004 he would have to change his sign which carries an Olympic torch and rings.

Restaurateur Mosi Alvand was told in a letter from Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games CEO John Furlong that the sign violated the Olympic trademark.

The pizzeria case was the first of a number of disputes over trademark issues in which the Vancouver organizers found themselves having to police use of Olympic trademarks.

Furlong said at the time the problem was that if a major pizza chain is asked to be an Olympic sponsor, it will refuse if Alvand is allowed to use Olympic marks for free.