Conversion therapy survivor among marshals of 29th annual Calgary Pride Parade

Rainbows brought bursts of colour to a foggy, grey day Sunday for the tens-of-thousands of attendees at the 29th annual Calgary Pride Parade on Sunday.

Tens-of-thousands of onlookers lined Sixth Avenue, waving rainbow flags and cheering

Tens-of-thousands lined Sixth Avenue in downtown Calgary for the 2019 Calgary Pride Parade. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Rainbows brought bursts of colour to a foggy, grey day for the tens-of-thousands of attendees at the 29th annual Calgary Pride Parade on Sunday.

Roughly 180 groups walked, danced and roller-skated along the parade route on Sixth Avenue, from Third Street S.E. to Sixth Street S.W., with between 80,000 and 110,000 watching and cheering from the sidelines, according to organizers.

The marshals of this year's parade were the members of the dismantled Conversion Therapy Working Group — an informal legislature body set up by the former NDP government to research ways to ban conversion therapy, that was cancelled by the governing UCP.

Conversion therapy is a widely condemned practice meant to change a person's LGBTQ sexual orientation or gender identity through counselling or religious teaching.

'Our community will not be silenced'

Brandon Beavan, one of the members of that group, says his grandparents put him in conversion therapy at age 13. He said the man who practiced conversion therapy on him is still operating in Calgary.

"It was probably the most traumatic points of my life to have people tell me I am going to die early, I am never going to be loved that I'm never going to have anyone that cares about me — for years on end," he said, adding that it hurts to think children are still being forced to go through what he went through.

"It ruins kids' lives."

Brandon Beavan is a conversion therapy survivor. He was one of the parade marshals on Sunday. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Beavan said he hopes to put pressure on politicians to take a stand and ban the practice. 

"We're so excited to have the Conversion Therapy Working Group at the front of the parade this year. That's another symbol that our community will not be silenced," said Shone Thistle, the board president of Calgary Pride.

"We live in a society where some people are treated differently and unfortunately that's still true … there are small choices we can make as businesses, as institutions to make those things better."

Earlier this year, Pride imposed a blanket ban on parties joining the march after a blind jury process left the NDP as the only party that would have been approved to take part.

Politicians were free to join the festivities if they were invited by a participating organization — and NDP MLAs, the leader of the Alberta Liberal Party and Liberal MP Kent Hehr were among those who took part.

The UCP were invited to attend, but as spectators.

But that didn't stop at least one UCP MLA, Leela Aheer, from marching.

As of 8 p.m. Sunday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, the UCP and the UCP caucus had yet to send out any public statements marking Calgary Pride.

Thistle said the UCP caucus did apply to march — but weren't allowed to participate because they hadn't demonstrated allyship, she said.

Thistle said an overwhelming number of groups applied to march this year.

"We had an abundant amount of applications and because we couldn't accommodate everyone there were a number of people who were declined from participating in the parade who are still amazing allies," said Thistle, adding that the parade will be expanded next year.

About 180 groups marched in the 29th annual parade. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Another organization that wasn't present — at least not in uniform — was the Calgary Police Service. 

Police did not apply to participate in the parade as an organization this year. Pride does not allow groups to participate in police, military or paramilitary uniform — but encouraged officers to participate out of uniform as civilians.

Instead, some officers seen on the sidelines of the parade wore rainbow "POLICE" patches on their uniforms.

Calgary Pride has said some members of the community have reason to distrust police, due to a substantive history of homophobia, transphobia and racism in policing institutions that continues to this day.

The parade ran from Third Street S.E. to Sixth Street S.W. along Sixth Avenue in downtown Calgary. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Calgary has come a long way since its first march in 1980 when police denied organizers a parade permit, but members of the LGBTQ community marched in defiance anyway, carrying signs of protest to city hall. The first parade wasn't held until 1991.

Some events leading up to this year's parade highlighted how the fight for LGBTQ equality is not over.

Calgary's rainbow and trans pride crosswalks were vandalized twice in August.

On Friday, supporters of LGBTQ community rallied in front of a vehicle belonging to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada — an association that opposes homosexuality and LGBTQ rights — that was permitted to park on Stephen Avenue, one block from the pride crosswalk.

There were a few protesters along the route, but they were largely blocked by pride supporters waving flags and cheering to drown out their chants. 

Calgary's pride celebration is the fourth largest in Canada.

Celebrations continue in Prince's Island Park until 6 p.m. Sunday, with an official after-party at Twisted Element from 8 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. with the stars of RuPaul's Drag Race Season 11.

With files from Helen Pike