Pride celebrations are returning to Fort McMurray for the first time since the May 2016 wildfire put off any plans for festivities last year.

"Today, I was Googling rainbow platform sneakers," said resident Lauren Elliott, who's excited for the LGBTQ festival's return to the city.

Although Fort McMurray is one of Canada's most culturally diverse city's per capita, Pride YMM organizer Jason Beck said it's not always easy being openly gay in Northern Alberta.

"There's some of the roughest, toughest oil workers out there who happen to be gay," Beck said. "There's a large number of people who identify with the community, but are not vocal about it."

It gets better

Beck has been openly gay for about two years and used to work as a pastor for a non-denominational church in Fort McMurray. After coming out, a few people from the church no longer speak with him, he said.

"I have people who walk by me who used to talk to me all the time but won't even look at me now," he said. "That's difficult."

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Jason Beck admits it’s not always easy being openly gay in a Northern Alberta town. (Jason Beck)

Still, Beck and Elliott said Fort McMurray is more LGBTQ friendly than it has been in the past. When Elliott moved to Fort McMurray 10 years ago, she wasn't fully out of the closet. That's no longer the case.

Beck and the other organizers of the newly formed Pride YMM said they are driven by the work that still needs to be done to gain greater acceptance for LGBTQ persons in Fort McMurray

The Pride celebrations will take place in Jubilee Plaza, Fort McMurray's main square, on August 26th. The event will be for people of all ages and the whole community is invited to participate. 

Organizers say they will share all their Pride plans with Fort McMurray's municipal council Tuesday night. The group will also enter a float in the city's Canada Day parade on Saturday. 

'Returning it with love'

A handful of Pride celebrations across Alberta have been tarnished by acts of vandalism this month. Rainbow pedestrian crossings have been vandalized in Lethbridge and Pride flags have been removed from flagpoles in Edmonton and elsewhere

Beck said he remembers a similar flag vandalism incident in Fort McMurray in 2013, but he doesn't expect a repeat this year.

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Lauren Elliot says she can’t wait for Fort McMurray’s Pride celebration in August. (Lauren Elliot)

"At the end of the day, we have not talked very much about negativity other than we acknowledged what happened [four] years ago," Beck said. "We're trying to focus on the positives."

Beck said with all the support they've seen so far, he doesn't expect a negative reception.

Elliott said if the events fall victim to similar acts of vandalism, she will be happy to respond.

"If somebody wants to disrespect me and my sexual orientation, I would feel so much better about myself and representing my LGBTQ community by just returning it with love," she said.

During its presentation to council Tuesday night, Pride YMM will lobby to make the Pride celebration an annual event in the city, and also inquire about painting sidewalks in the city and starting a non-profit group that supports LGBTQ high school students. 

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