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Members of Vancouver's LGBT community and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, centre, raise the rainbow flag at Vancouver City Hall on Monday to mark the start of Vancouver’s Pride Week.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

In a city where more than half a million people come out to celebrate gay pride each year, it's easy to forget that, in many other parts of the world, homosexuality is still illegal – and in some regions, punishable by death.

But that stark fact is not lost on Vancouver Pride's international grand marshals, many of whom have been persecuted in their own countries. According to Pride general manager Ray Lam, many have been so overwhelmed by the mass show of support in past parades that they are moved to tears. Mr. Lam also receives dozens of e-mails each year from people as far away as Africa who have heard about Vancouver Pride and send pleas for help.

"Then they come to Vancouver, and you have almost a million people on the streets, all celebrating Pride – and it's not just queer people. It's straight people and allies and families coming out to celebrate the LGBT community," he says. "So it's really overwhelming for them."

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Organizers this year are expecting more than 650,000 people at Sunday's parade, which involves dozens of floats and 2,500 participants winding their way through downtown streets, among them high-profile athletes, politicians and local celebs. For the first time, it will also be live-streamed online. (And a tip: $25 can buy you a ticket for a prime air-conditioned seat at The Boathouse.)

But while Sunday's parade and Sunset Beach festival have the biggest draw, plenty of other Pride events are happening this weekend, among them a Pride-themed burlesque show, the Vancouver Dyke March, the Trans and Genderqueer Celebration and Liberation March, and the famed Terry Wallace Memorial Breakfast.

There's also a huge Davie Street Block Party, which features a beer and wine garden, carnival games, colourful vendors, an all-ages dance floor, representatives from myriad community organizations and more. On Saturday, the Celebration of Light is also giving a nod to Pride with rainbow-coloured fireworks.

"We hope that everyone feels a sense of community and belonging, because the LGBT community is faced with a history of social isolation, discrimination and violence," Mr. Lam says. "And something as simple as being around like-minded people is a very powerful thing, because then people know they're not alone any more."

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