It's been torn, burned and banned — so a pandemic didn't stop Taber from raising its Pride flag

Taber's LGBTQ+ community has faced hostility and setbacks in marking Pride.

'We have an amazing community that will come together in times of need'

The Pride flag flutters in the wind outside the Taber, Alta., provincial building in 2018. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

Taber's LGBTQ+ community has faced hostility and setbacks in marking Pride.

So for the event's fourth year, organizers weren't going to let a pandemic stop them from raising the rainbow flag.

"Our first flag was stolen and our second flag was burned. And that was in our first year. In the second year they just denied anybody use of the flag pole. So the province stepped up and allowed us to use theirs. And so it was really important for us we were able to raise it again last year and so it is important to still be able to do that," said Scott Gillespie, with the Taber Equality Alliance.

The group was first allowed to fly the flag in the town's Confederation Park in 2017. It was shredded by vandals, then lit on fire days later.

When the group applied to raise the flag again in 2018, the town passed a motion stipulating no flags other than the Alberta, Canada or Taber flags could be flown from the town flag pole. Instead, the flag was flown from the provincial building, which is where the flag was raised again this year.

However, this year's flag raising was bittersweet — with no crowd in the audience or in-person celebration, just community members watching online.

"Being an out person here comes with the understanding that you will be judged, ridiculed, and even threatened," said Ryan Broadfoot, shortly before he raised the flag, which was broadcast via livestream.

"But the thing is we have an amazing community that will come together in times of need ... we can't all be together but in spirit we are."

Gillespie said the community is finding ways to come together virtually, from online performances, to sharing messages of love that can be featured on social media. 

"It was very nice to see things still happen," he said. "It wasn't really until today that it really hit me that, usually you know, like right now we normally would be over in the park and having music and performers and beer gardens and then a dance in the evening and lots of other stuff going on with people nearby. But that's not possible this year."

Mayor, police chief share supportive messages

But, he said, this year has something else special — a message shared from the town's mayor, for the first time, marking the occasion.

"I look forward to seeing how the virtual celebration works out … all the very best, stay safe and be well," said Mayor Andrew Prokop in a video posted to Taber Pride's Facebook page.

The chief of police, Alberta's Liberal leader, and others also shared messages for the online celebration.

"There's always progress being made," Gillespie said.

Gillespie said the organization has also purchased gift cards from local businesses, to provide honorariums for those who submit art, poetry, writing and videos showcasing their pride, and as a way to support the local economy, which has been struggling due to COVID-19.

The town of just under 10,000 people is located about 50 kilometres east of Lethbridge.