A Celebration of Self: Accor, Fairmont and LGBTQ+ Pride
LGBTQ+ Pride has come a long way since North America’s first Pride March. Held the year after the Stonewall Riots, the catalyst for the early gay rights movement, the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade took place in New York City on June 28, 1970. Canada followed, with the country’s first Gay Pride Week in Toronto in August of 1972.
Fifty years later, Pride has blossomed into yearly celebrations, including parades, festivals and parties attended by millions in cities worldwide. This year, due to the impact of COVID-19, Pride celebrations are taking place virtually. However, this doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm of Vancouver-based drag queen Kendall Gender.
She explains, “Pride is not necessarily a big party. It’s an internal feeling, a celebration of one’s self, whether at a parade or at home.”
A few years ago a member of the Fairmont Pride Committee presented Kendall with the idea of representing Vancouver’s Fairmont hotels for the Pride Parade. Kendall signed on as an ambassador for the hotels.
“Every year Fairmont’s involvement and my involvement with the hotels have grown exponentially. During the first Pride Parade, we were walking, and last year we were elevated to actually having a really big float.”
This year, Kendall will take part in Vancouver Pride’s virtual programming for the city’s Pride celebration, which takes place from late July through early August.
Kendall explains that she is involved with drag because it has roots in activism and helping and inspiring people. “I wear my drag as armor, as my superhero cape. There’s a lot of discrimination I’ve experienced for being outwardly queer for the majority of my life. When I do face adversity it makes me a lot more comfortable dealing with it.”
Kendall remains dedicated to drag’s activist roots. “I’ve put myself in the public eye. As a drag performer, I want to help and educate people for the voices that can’t. I have friends who are Black or POC, and right now they’re feeling very stifled, very scared and quiet. I want to take the burden off of people and use my voice for good. We did a fundraiser last week where 100 percent of the proceeds went to Black Lives Matter Canada, and it was really cool to be able to use the art of drag for the better good.”
Kristyna Vogel, director, marketing and public relations for Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver, says, “We truly understand that Pride is a 365-day a year celebration of diversity and inclusion.”
Vogel adds, “Obviously this is just one component. There are a lot of letters in LGBTQ+, but finding safe spaces for all of those voices is really important to Fairmont and Accor; identifying needs and finding a place where people can feel at home.”
Edwin Frizzell, regional vice president Accor Central Canada and general manager Fairmont Royal York, underscores that priority. “Our mission is to make every guest feel welcome and, most importantly, safe.” For Frizzell, Accor’s mission is personal because he is open about being gay. When asked about his experience as a gay man and an executive with Accor and Fairmont, he said he feels fortunate to work where he feels welcome and valued. “I firmly believe Accor takes these values to heart and works continuously to improve our environment of diversity and inclusion. I often say how fortunate I am to have one of the best hospitality jobs in Canada! Not only do I get to work with incredible people, I get to fulfill my professional aspirations in an environment where I am surrounded by allies and advocates who have my best interests at heart.”
Fairmont Royal York is a partner of the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association, the world’s leading network of LGBTQ+ for travelers, which promotes “safe” travel for the community globally. "In 2018, Fairmont Royal York was proud to host IGLTA’s Toronto conference with thousands of attendees from around the world. In tandem with this conference, we offered a special PRIDE rate with a portion of the sales going to IGLTA, which assisted the organization in creating resources for their community to feel safe while travelling."
Frizzell notes he recently received feedback from one of Fairmont’s frequent guests who mentioned he “never feels uncomfortable to be his true self when staying at a Fairmont, not even when he and his boyfriend are in countries that are not LGBTQ+ friendly.”
A gay couple who recently held their wedding at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York echoes these sentiments, writing of the experience, “We felt like Royal Maharajas for a day. Not because of our clothes or because of the setting of the wedding… but because of the care and attention we were treated with by the incredible Fairmont Royal York staff."
Daniel Poulin, director spa and fitness North and Central America for Accor, recalls the impetus for his involvement in Accor’s LGBTQ+ initiatives. “I started working on this being a gay man myself.” But it is actually a specific guest request which stands out in his memory. A trans woman contacted one of the hotels two months before her visit to let the hotel know she had scheduled a spa treatment. She wanted to know if the hotel had any procedures or guidelines she should be aware of. Poulin knew it was important that all guests, including this specific trans woman, feel welcome and comfortable in each hotel, in line with Accor’s significant commitments to diversity and inclusion.
Bolstered by Poulin’s continued advocacy and corporate support, Accor’s commitment to ensuring that all guests and employees feel safe and included is stronger than ever. Most recently, Accor North & Central America added a specific LGBTQ+ pillar to its Diversity & Inclusion committee. It ensures the company’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is not an afterthought but part of the Group’s daily operations. The result? Accor employees responded enthusiastically to the decision. Poulin says, “We sent all employees an email asking for volunteers and had 24 people who wanted to be part of the LGBTQ+ pillar.”
Photo credit: Fairmont Royal York Wedding - Peter Bregg
Eva Leonard is a New York City-based journalist who writes about travel, design, food, people, and architecture. She had lived on three continents by the time she was six years old.