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Hot Ticket: Pride has come a long way in 35 years, but the fight for rights continues

Parade onlookers reach for beads from a parade participant during the 35th Annual Gay Pride Parade in Vancouver August 5, 2012.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

When a handful of marchers took to the streets in Vancouver's first-ever Pride parade 35 years ago, it was almost inconceivable that within many of the participants' lifetimes homosexuality would be openly accepted, gay marriage would be legal and that city officials would declare Pride an official civic event. This week, a crosswalk at Davie and Bute streets was even permanently painted with rainbow colours.

"They were marches to demand equality – not parades," says Ray Lam, manager of the Vancouver Pride Society. "And the people who marched were absolutely terrified. They didn't know what would come of it."

What came of it was a parade that would eventually draw more than 600,000 onlookers, as well as participants from local celebs to high-profile politicians. The myriad surrounding events – among them a huge pancake breakfast, a new 10-kilometre run, a musical, a free community block party and plenty of booming club nights – attract thousands more.

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This year's parade will also feature players from the Vancouver Canucks, and for the first time, athletes from Canada's Olympic team and the Vancouver Whitecaps.

But while LGBT people in Vancouver enjoy many freedoms and protections, the fight for gay rights is far from won, Mr. Lam said.

In 78 countries, people can still be arrested for being gay; in seven, it is punishable by death. Last month, Russia passed a law allowing officials to arrest citizens or visitors who are suspected of being gay or even "pro-gay." One of the grand marshals at this year's Vancouver parade is Zdravko Cimbaljevic, a Montenegrin who recently led his country's first Pride march, which abruptly ended when police had to rescue marchers from a rock-hurling mob. This week in Fort McMurray, Alta., two Pride flags were burned.

"We can't be complacent, because the LGBT movement is still young and we got our rights very fast," Mr. Lam said. "And that means they can be taken away just as quickly."

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