British Columbia

Prince George celebrate 20th Pride celebration

In 1997 the first Pride march in Northern B.C. took place in Prince George despite rumours of violent threats. This weekend the city celebrates its 20th Pride celebration.

First participants braved threats of guns and baseball bats, says advocate

Prince George's Pride weekend attracts people from across the region to enjoy the annual parade, music and community events. (City of Prince George)

In 1997, hundreds of marchers braved threats of violence to participate in Prince George's first ever Pride Parade.

Twenty years on, the city of Prince George is marking the anniversary of one of Canada's longest-running small town Pride events with a weekend of festivities.

"There had been rumours that neo-Nazis were coming up from Williams Lake with guns and baseball bats," said local gay rights advocate Tess Healy, recalling the first march.

"Over 300 people showed up, decided to be brave and to walk with us in spite of those threats."

Today, Prince George sports two rainbow crosswalks and a Pride flag flies high at city hall. But acceptance wasn't always the norm for LGBTQ people living in the area.

"We organized an informational picket and in the evaluation of that afterwards we thought, 'why are we reacting?' We should be doing something proactive," Healy told Carolina de Ryk, host of CBC's Daybreak North.

While the turnout to the first march in 1997 was large, the event was significantly smaller in the years immediately following. Still, Healy said the community has been a leader in acceptance.

"I think Prince George gets a bit of a bad rap and in fact we were ahead of the curve. We were the first community of our size in Canada to have a Pride march," she said.

Acceptance grows across North

This year, the city of Fort St. John marked its second Pride Parade while Dawson Creek celebrated it's third.

Rainbow crosswalks can be found in communities across the north including Prince Rupert, Terrace, Smithers and Massett.

"We're beginning to see a real spread of acceptance and welcome actually," said Healy.

However, in 2016, the town council of Valemount, located nearly 300 kilometres southeast of Prince George, unanimously rejected a proposed rainbow sidewalk there, citing cost and safety concerns.

About 50 activists then drew a makeshift version with chalk, but the move was criticized by Mayor Jeannette Townsend.

The next frontier for the LGBTQ community is trans rights, said Prince George based activist Tess Healy. (City of Prince George)

The next frontier

Healy believes the next frontier for the LGBTQ community is fighting for transgender rights. She said Prince George is already a leader in that area.

The Northern Transgender Health Clinic was opened in Prince George in August, 2015 "to support a growing need for trans care in Northern B.C.," according to the clinic's website.

Healy said there's still more to fight for despite growing acceptance of gay rights worldwide.

"There are still people who think that it's evil and a sin ... still in many countries you can be executed for the crime of loving somebody of the same sex," said Healy.

With files from CBC Radio's Daybreak North