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Importance of Pride Events and Meaningful Representation

Sunday, June 04, in Winnipeg, MB, despite temperatures of 30 degrees and above, thousands gathered holding signs and adorned in vibrant colours for the largest pride event in Winnipeg’s history. Thompson and Flin Flon Pride also took place this past weekend.

Addressing the crowd before the parade, Winnipeg Pride president Barry Karlenzig said over 10,000 people had registered to march. However, Pride in the prairies is just getting started.

Pride events can trace their origins to the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a series of protests led by the gay, trans, and drag community in response to police raids on the Stonewall Inn in New York. On the anniversary of this event, the first Pride marches were held. In 1987, hiding their faces to avoid persecution, many walked down Portage Avenue for Winnipeg’s first Pride protest. Pride has come a long way since those days.

In 2019, Pembina Valley Pride held its first event in Morden, MB, and many rural Manitoba communities are celebrating for the first time. The Pembina Valley is an area in Southern Manitoba, including communities such as Morden, Winkler, Altona, and Carman.

According to Peter Wohlgemut, President of Pembina Valley Pride, many within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, particularly in the southern Manitoba region, must be careful who they come out to. Although Winnipeg Pride broke new ground for participation, smaller events across the prairie are just as important, if not more. Wohlgemut says for many 2SLGBTQIA+ (Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) individuals living in rural areas, rural Pride events are a chance to see you’re not the only one who feels the way you do.

“For a lot of people, I think that goes a long way to carry them throughout the year. It provides them with that, yeah, there are people in my community that see me, that recognize and celebrate who I am.

Although the community is growing in these areas, it’s still an unfortunate reality for many to feel othered and isolated within their communities and homes, especially for those who identify as trans or non-binary (an individual whose gender identity or gender expression doesn’t align with their biological sex) during a time where their identity and existence is being challenged and fearmongered against. Attacks against transgender gender-diverse individuals aren’t isolated to the United States. Over the past year, there have been defunding battles at the South Central Regional Libraries over sex-ed content in books and a proposed removal of 2SLGBTQIA+ in the Brandon School Division by a Brandon grandmother claiming the removal of these books would “protect our children from sexual grooming and pedophilia.” However, much like the support shown at the Pembina Valley’s first Pride event, support for the 2SLGBTQIA+ continues to be encouraging. With more than 30 area residents speaking at the meeting and hundreds and email sand letters supporting keeping the books, the proposal was rejected six to one that would have created a committee to review library book content.

“I checked in, and I think it was 11:30 p.m., and presentations were still going on. It went late into the night. The vast majority were against the idea of removing books. To see that kind of support, and we’re seeing it more often. That’s huge, but Pride remains a protest, but it’s also a family gathering. It brings together all these aspects, which can be challenging for planners because people are coming for different meanings. Some want more protest, some want more family gatherings, and some want more celebration, but it’s all those wrapped up and rolled up into one event, which is huge for our community.”

Support for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community needs to continue. Looking at the Federal government’s 2022 2SLGBTQIA+ Action Plan identifies many of the challenges faced by the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. 25 to 40 percent of homeless youth in Canada are 2SLGBTQIA+, and a 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Space showed community members were more than twice as likely as non-community members to have experienced some homelessness or housing insecurity since the age of 15. Statistics also show that seniors, racialized people and recent immigrants are more likely to experience housing challenges within these communities. Non-heterosexual individuals are nearly two times more likely to experience violence in their lifetime. According to the 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS), excluding experiences of intimate partner violence, 59% of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and other non-heterosexual respondents had experienced physical or sexual assault since the age of 15, compared with 37% of heterosexual respondents.

Compared to heterosexual and cisgender individuals, 2SLGBTQIA+ folks are:

  • Seven times more likely to abuse drugs or other substances
  • Five times more likely to have mental health issues
  • Five times more likely to attempt suicide
  • Two times as likely to experience severe poverty and homelessness

That’s why Pride events and funding 2SLGBTQIA+ services are so important, to help those struggling and build a sense of community and home for Pembina Valley Pride, which includes their queer board game nights, partnering with local school divisions to invite experts for info sessions for parents. However, services also need to come on a government level, and there is good news from the province. To support the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, the Manitoba government is creating a new Gender Equity Manitoba (GEM) Secretariat. The administration division is to meet the increasing need for community-specific services to the 2SLGBTQIA+ population.

To support community-specific services, GEM will include an increased budget to coordinate cross-departmental work on 2SLGBTQIA+ issues and support the community with a new granting program. Pride Winnipeg will be the first to be awarded this grant to support permanent staffing and expand pride activities across the province in dedicated annual support from GEM of $250,000.

“In talking with people from Pride Winnipeg over the past few years, since I’ve been in my role, there’s been a desire to connect. A lot of smaller communities are starting to have Pride, Portage Pride, Brandon Pride, Gimli Pride, Thomson, and Flin Flon. It’s all over the place. We’re all small volunteer organizations, and it’s hard to connect. Part of what I’m excited about with this funding is it will enable Pride Winnipeg to take some leadership to bring all our small organizations together so we can coordinate and bring resources together.

Additionally, the release announced an investment in improving access to care and reducing wait times for gender-affirming care for youth and adults, nearly $490,000 over two years and new annual Manitoba government funding of more than $700,000 Klinic Community Health Centre and Shared Health’s Gender Diversity and Affirming Action for Youth (GDAAY) program. However, the Progressive Conservative government removed mention of this funding on its website. It said there would be a future update on the topic from Manitoba’s diagnostic and surgical recovery task force.

Whether viewed as a protest to protect rights and freedoms, a gathering for family and friends, or an opportunity to connect with others to celebrate diversity, Pride continues to be a significant event in the lives of the queer community.

Pembina Valley Pride takes place in Morden, MB, on June 10, with more events in other communities happening throughout the month.

  • Gimli Pride, Saturday, June 10, 2023
  • Brandon Pride Parade & Festival, Saturday, June 17, 2023
  • Steinbach Pride, Sunday, June 25, 2023

– Ryan Funk, U Multicultural

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