Brilliant! loses founder over alleged hospital foundation homophobia
The founder and producer of a popular St. Paul’s Hospital fundraising gala has resigned after allegedly being told to tone down the show’s LGBTQ presence.
Until just a few weeks ago, Dean Thullner was the producer of Brilliant! — an event that, over three years, has raised $2 million for HIV and AIDS, mental health and addiction programs at St. Paul’s Hospital.
Thullner, who is living with HIV and AIDS and once was a patient at St. Paul’s, said he first heard about the push to remove any mention or representation of LGBTQ or samesex relationships from the show from an employee of the St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation (SPHF) last summer.
Thullner said he was upset, but decided to press on with the event, which relies on the talents of hundreds of Vancouver designers, makeup artists, musicians, hair stylists, models and dancers. In the end the show raised $1.5 million for mental health and addictions (HIV and AIDS had been removed from the equation by SPHF in 2014).
He decided to quit last month after he was told by SPHF representatives that he had to remove LGBT references from Brilliant! and that the show, usually held in the fall, was going to move from the Commodore to a larger venue.
Thullner said he told SPHF’s Monica Chan and Renee Fisher during the March meeting: “This is ridiculous.”
He said he was told specifically that they “‘didn’t want any gay on the runway,’ ” and that the show had to be tightened up from 90 minutes to 40 minutes. Further, he said, he was told: “‘We are going to tell you what we think is acceptable.’ ”
He said the issue really is taking the event away from the LGBTQ community, which started it and support it every year.
“Basically, it’s greed,” alleged Thullner, who owns the Volume Studio hair salon in Davie Village. “They want to take this event. They want to tell us what to do with it.”
Thullner said he was told that the push to pull any gay references from the runaway was requested by SPHF CEO and president Dick Vollet, whose wife Evelyn works for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver.
“I want to be clear. I quit. I am so grateful to St. Paul’s Hospital and this has nothing to do with the angels that work in St. Paul’s Hospital every day dealing with gay issues, straight issues, transgender issues,” said Thullner, who sent a letter to the SPHF board of directors outlining his concerns at the beginning of March.
“It’s hearsay, I think, right now,” said Vollet, who said he was surprised about Thullner’s resignation.
“Dean and I talked about a lot of the elements of the show, and frankly he was quite flexible. He actually controlled and terminated a couple of salons that were going to be part of Brilliant! because he knew it wasn’t a direction we collectively wanted to go.
“And quite frankly, my wife has attended Brilliant! every year and she loves it.”
Without Thullner at the helm it remains to be seen how many past participants and volunteers will be lining up to return for Brilliant! — now slated for the Rocky Mountaineer.
“The show must go on, absolutely,” said Vollet. “We are working collectively with the community.” Thullner doesn’t share that view. “Believe me,” said Thullner, “there isn’t a hair salon, a makeup artist or a fashion designer that’s been involved that is moving forward.”
This has nothing to do with the angels that work in St. Paul’s Hospital every day dealing with gay issues, straight issues, transgender issues.