Parkland County RCMP officer marches in NYC Pride
'That's not something that you commonly see, a male police officer holding hands with another guy'
A Parkland County RCMP officer holding hands with his male companion stole the show at World Pride in New York City on Sunday.
Insp. Mike Lokken, commander for the RCMP's Parkland detachment west of Edmonton, was the only Mountie in the march, the biggest Pride parade in the world, and the only police officer marching from western Canada.
"I think that's not something that you commonly see, a male police officer holding hands with another guy," Lokken said.
"To see the crowd response and the huge cheering and everything, for them accepting you … it was a very emotional, overwhelming thing."
Lokken's partner, Jamie Rattai, said crowds along the parade route shouted, 'We love you, Canada!' 'You're the best, Canada!' 'We want to move there!' as Lokken passed wearing his broad-brimmed hat and red serge.
"Just the amount of appreciation and respect that New Yorkers have for Canada just blew me away," Rattai said.
"We've been in the Edmonton Pride parade which in the past has been amazing and the response from the public is phenomenal … but this was beyond that. This was off the charts."
Lokken was the first RCMP member to march in the Edmonton Pride parade in 2014.
Lokken was invited to World Pride by the New York Police Department, which for the past two years has extended invitations to police agencies which either were not invited to or didn't have a Pride parade in their community.
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After an opening ceremony in Brooklyn, marchers walked through the LGBTQ-friendly Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan to a closing ceremony in Times Square.
Rattai said his favourite part was when Lokken grabbed his hand during the march.
"Just by simply holding his hand, walking down the streets of New York with a Mountie and being the same gender, just felt like a statement in itself, that you know, we've arrived," Rattai said.
For Lokken, the experience showed how far the relationship has come between police and the LGBTQ community.
"If you look back 50 years, it was the police basically against the LGBTQ community," Lokken said. "And I think a lot of times when you are on one side, you see a lot of the negative of the other side.
"I feel a lot of the positives of both sides that I'm on and that's what I focus on."
New York vs. Edmonton
For Lokken, who has been open about his sexuality for 11 of his 23 years with the RCMP, his experience in New York was eye opening.
"I've never experienced a place where a lot of people, particularly in the straight community, would think nothing of walking down the street and holding their other half's hand," he said.
"There have been times in Edmonton where we've done that and you typically will have somebody yell at you or say something. I'm comfortable with myself and it doesn't matter, but in New York there is complete acceptance."
Still, Lokken, originally from a small town in Saskatchewan, is happy to be back in rural Alberta.
"It's very important to me to showcase that this is OK and that this is normal, particularly to people in rural areas," he said.