The people behind a rural Manitoba Pride celebration are vowing to not let protesters get in they way of spreading a message of love after a picket surrounded their march.
"You can't be leading your life with hate in your heart," said Will Garrioch, a gay man who helped organize Portage la Prarie Pride.
Garrioch said at least 50 protesters picketed outside the second annual parade, many holding religious signs. The demonstrators arrived well before the event Saturday.
"They were set up all over town this year unfortunately and once they figured out what our route was for the parade they really jam-packed around in there," added Callie McArthur, a Pride organizer.
Portage la Prairie Pride volunteers said the protesters were singing hymns to marchers and were handing out hateful messages on pamphlets emblazoned with a photo of a noose.
McArthur said organizers are taking a proactive approach to the protesters and didn't take photos of them. The group would like to focus on love, not hate, she added.
'Not born with hate'
"I thought it was extremely tacky and offensive considering how many LGBT people kill themselves," said Garrioch, who hails from Portage, about 83 kilometres west of Winnipeg.
He's lived many of the challenges that can go along with being gay in a small town.
"It was tough. Growing up in school, it was horrible. I got bullied all the time." Garrioch said protesters' signs had offensive messaging that children saw. including, "Where will you go when you die? Will you repent for your sins? Things like that," he said.
McArthur didn't plan to speak Saturday but made an impromptu address after the protesters arrived.
"We are not born with hate in our bodies that is a learned behaviour," she told CBC News.
The parade is not going away. - Irvin Ferris
The city's mayor said he was disappointed in the protesters' behaviour.
"This is not Portage la Prairie," Irvin Ferris told Radio Noon Monday.
The mayor said the group of protesters was mostly made up of churches from outside the community.
He felt the protesters were "somewhat alarming," and said he'll be passing along a pamphlet that had the photo of a noose on it to the RCMP.
"The parade is not going away."
Minister happy to join the march
Garrioch estimated as many as 300 people came out in support of the march, including Brandon West MLA Reg Helwer and Portage la Prairie MLA Ian Wishart.
Wishart said in an email he was "pleased to join with others to celebrate the diversity that is Portage and demonstrate the inclusion that is represented in our community."
- Hundreds flock to Manitoba's Bible Belt for Steinbach's 2nd Pride
- Steinbach-area politicians will be no-shows at city's 1st Pride
He didn't say if his attendance at the Pride goes against Progressive Conservative Party lines. Both he and Helwer voted against Bill 18 in 2013, which requires schools to accommodate students who want to start gay-straight alliances. The PCs said it was because the NDP was playing politics at the time.
Manitoba Health Minister and Steinbach MLA Kelvin Goertzen has refused to attend Steinbach Pride, another rural celebration of LGBT rights that's faced opposition from religious groups.
Garrioch said he thinks attitudes are changing in the city and believes the Pride march is important for LGBT youth in the community.
"I think it's very important in a place like Portage because growing up for myself when I lived there it had a very small town mentality."
Portage la Prairie is a city located about 83 kilometres from Winnipeg.