SURREY - What was old is made new again, and often better.
That's certainly the situation with Martin Rooney and the Empire of the Peace Arch Monarchist Association, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.
"The theme this year is 'Renaissance - It's all theatre, none of it's real,'" said Rooney.
To that end, attendees will dress up in formal wear, sometimes as the other gender, pretend to be royalty and throw a huge party while raising money for charity.
EPAMA, as the not-for-profit society is known, is Surrey's branch of the International Court System, a GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered) focused organization that elects its leaders with various monarchist titles, depending on the court's size and place within the larger group. ICS courts are found in major cities across North America, some dating back to the mid-1960s when it all got started in San Francisco.
The elected royalty then have one year to lead the group's charity efforts and fundraising drives, and represent their city by visiting as many other courts as time and money allow.
EPAMA started out as a barony 10 years ago with Rooney elected as the First Monarch of Surrey. He is currently serving as emperor once again, along with empress Rose Royce. (Campy nicknames abound, and they're all chosen in good fun.) Their reign ends at the coronation weekend of May 18-20. One of the changes put into place this year is that only members will be eligible to vote on the next year's imperial crown prince and princess.
A big part of the job, Rooney explained, is to "play court" at the public events, which have bylaws mandating they be fundraisers too.
EPAMA, Rooney pointed out, is the "only non-profit registered GLBT charity that raises funds for the Surrey area."
The main beneficiaries are breast cancer research and the Djaef Mahler Grocery, a high-protein supplemental food bank for HIV-positive people. Other charitable efforts include Red Ribbons for Life and the Surrey Youth Alliance scholarships, which have just been expanded.
All told, the group has raised about $60,000.
The past 10 years have seen a lot of change, in terms of how the local GLBT community is received by the mainstream, and on down to the personal level with Rooney moving from activism to becoming an advocate.
When Rooney moved to Surrey from Vancouver, he spent his first years here focused on creating a safe, respectful place for those who identify as GLBT to meet and socialize. Unlike Vancouver and many other large cities, Surrey still does not have any businesses specifically catering to the gay or lesbian crowd, although there are a number of "gay-friendly" venues these days.
Rooney developed into something of a rights advocate when he was blocked from entering the U.S. for being HIV-positive under a little-known law from the early days of AIDS. That led to an international effort to have the outdated law repealed.
This was particularly important, Rooney noted, because it was not fought as a gay issue.
"I don't only defend GLBT rights," he said. "I defend human rights."
The International Court System has dubbed this the Year of Service Members and Veterans, Rooney said. Here in Surrey, the group will honour this by focusing their efforts on the Canadian Forces Hospital Fund.
But for now, all eyes are on the upcoming coronation weekend. There is an out-of-town monarch show on Friday, May 18, with the main event set for Saturday evening, including the vote, and wrapping up with the victory brunch Sunday morning. As in previous years, the location is at the Compass Point Inn, 9850 King George Blvd. For ticket and event information, see gaysurrey.com.
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