Organizers of the Pride Winnipeg Festival are reviewing the decision to move the date of next year's festival after getting backlash from members of the city's LGBT community about the change and how the decision was made.
Pride Winnipeg announced late last month that next year's festival would run from July 20 to 29, with the festival at The Forks on July 28 and 29 and the Pride Winnipeg Parade on July 29.
The festival has previously run from late May to early June, but organizers said the change in dates was needed to expand the two-day party at The Forks that caps off the 10-day festival.
But the announcement didn't go over well with everyone, and after a debate erupted on Pride Winnipeg's Facebook page, organizers held a public meeting this week to hear the concerns.
Bradley West, a past president of both Pride Winnipeg and Fierté Canada Pride who has worked closely with young people involved in gay-straight alliances, was surprised by the announcement and worries students who attend the festival through school programs might not get the chance if the festival happens during summer vacation.
"It might sound odd, but there are a lot of families out there who are fine with their kids attending Pride through a school activity, but they wouldn't be OK dropping their kid off on their own to go," said West, who attended the public meeting. "I knew the impact this date change would have on students and schools in terms of their official participation and support of Pride."
Another major complaint brought up at the meeting, West said, was that the new date would mean Pride Winnipeg would overlap with previously scheduled festivals including the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, the Gimli Film Festival and the Ai-Kon anime convention.
'They underestimated the negative impact'
But overall, West said those in attendance were upset that the non-profit that runs the festival hadn't consulted the community before making the change.
"They underestimated the negative impact that this would have, not only for people directly involved with Pride as official community partners, but also those who are laterally involved with Pride who organize events for community groups, organizations, or youth that aren't formally part of the festival," he said.
Pride Winnipeg president Jonathan Niemczak admits the negative feedback came as a surprise to organizers.
"We obviously went about this decision with the best of intentions and, you know, we did think it was a good news story. We were very excited to make the announcement because the new dates were going to provide us with some really awesome new opportunities to grow the festival," he said.
"In hindsight, now we realize that the community felt that they weren't properly consulted and were blindsided by it... We apologized and continue to apologize for the frustration it may have caused folks and organizations."
While Niemczak wasn't able to attend this week's meeting, he said the conversation has led festival organizers to rethink their plan.
He said the festival will take the comments heard at the meeting and reevaluate the decision to switch the dates.
"The decision is definitely not set in stone," explained Niemczak. "
Niemczak added organizers will announce their final decision on when next year's festival will be held within the next two weeks.
West said he has been impressed by Pride Winnipeg's response to the concerns and is hopeful the board decides to keep the original dates for the 2018 edition of the Pride Winnipeg Festival.
"The whole purpose is to create a festival where we can celebrate our identities and celebrate who we are," West said.
"Hopefully they change the date back and then we can have chats as a community about what we'll do 2019 and 2020."