The first year that Betsy Bottom Dollar helped to bring up the rear of the Victoria Pride parade, she got heat stroke.
Dressed as Cher, in a leather body suit and wig, the local performer was roller skating next to the Rumors Night Club float as it rolled down Government Street.
“[The parade] was shorter, the crowds weren’t very big,” she said, recalling a crowd of about 200 people at the 1996 event. “I remember it being hot.”
Betsy Bottom Dollar, also known as April Murphy, would perform on the final float of the Victoria Pride Parade for the next 25 years, leading the crowd through downtown and to MacDonald Park for the Pride festival.
Sunday will be her last, as she gives up the coveted spot.
“It’s bittersweet for sure,” she said. “I’ve never missed one.”
As she decorated this year’s glittering, golden costume, Murphy looked back on Pride, remembering how the crowd grew in size from year to year.
“One year … it felt like all of a sudden the crowd doubled. It was just wall to wall people. And then the next year it felt like it doubled again,” she said. “It felt like not just acceptance but true celebration from the whole city. Instead of in the beginning [when it was] something that was begrudgingly allowed.”
When Pride events were cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions, Murphy still put on a show — doing a virtual parade in 2020 and filming a single float parade on her street in 2021.
While she still performs burlesque shows, Murphy is hanging up her Pride wig this year and hoping to pass the torch.
“It’s such a wonderful thing and it’s such a happy day,” she said. “Somebody younger needs to experience this as well and take it on.”
After a pandemic pause, the Victoria Pride Parade is back for the first time since 2019, taking over downtown Sunday morning at 11. But it might look a little different.
This year, the Victoria Pride Society board created a social impact model that vetted participants — businesses, corporations and organizations — based on their actions outside of Pride Month.
The board looked for policies around inclusive language, gender-neutral washrooms or medical coverage for gender-affirming care, among other things.
“The Pride parade has become a lot more performative globally and in big cities,” said Britton Kohn, president of the Victoria Pride Society. “And so what our communities are asking for is for some accountability. Why do they get to march? Who are they? What are they really doing other than having a party on this day?”
The social-impact model is new this year, Kohn said. And several applicants were turned away for not meeting the criteria.
“Either they don’t do enough year-round, or they actually cause harm,” Kohn said. “We’ve seen a vibrant boom in participation in the parade, and we’re trying to maintain that grassroots, ‘take it back’ approach.”
But working with corporate participants is important too, Kohn added. Corporations can influence change and enact policies that improve conditions for people of colour and people in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.
2SLGBTQIA+ is the abbreviation used by the Victoria Pride Society. It stands for two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual and + for any other ways people may choose to self-identify.
“A lot of our queer siblings work for these organizations,” Kohn said. “Our hope is we can provide a little guidance.”
Kohn said the society’s new accountability model is about honouring the past.
“We want to honour the folks who had the courage to step outside into a very unforgiving world and risk all of their freedoms, their safety, their jobs,” Kohn said. “This continues to happen today, people forget that. It’s not like it’s gone and it’s distant memory.”
The parade has a new route this year, starting at the Johnson Street Bridge and heading down Wharf Street, right onto Government Street toward James Bay via Belleville and Menzies, and ending at MacDonald Park for the Victoria Pride Festival, which runs until 8 p.m.
For more information and a full list of Pride events, go to victoriapridesociety.org.