Edmonton 'Pride Corner' protesters petition for permanent recognition
Organizers say an Edmonton intersection has become significant to LGBT community
Every Friday night, dozens of members and allies of Edmonton's LGBT community gather at the corner of Whyte Avenue and 104th Street to protest what they say are homophobic messages from street preachers.
As street preachers shout about repenting sins, the protesters dance to loud music and wave rainbow flags and signs.
A petition to formally recognize the location of these gatherings as "Pride Corner" has gained traction online, drawing more than 7,000 signatures since it was created last week.
Organizers, who are seeking recognition from the City of Edmonton and the Old Strathcona Business Association, say the corner has become significant to the LGBT community.
"The fact that it could be recognized as a place of community, a safe ground, a safe space, is awesome," said Claire Pearen, who helped establish the weekly protests.
Pearen said she had protested street preachers on Whyte Avenue by herself before, but started showing up more regularly just over a year ago. Since then, she has had more and more company.
Earlier this month, Janis Irwin, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood, encouraged her followers to visit the corner.
Cathy Stumbur showed up for the first time on Friday after seeing posts about the protests on TikTok and Facebook.
"I've got a few friends that have come down to show support and I've always wanted to get involved," she told CBC News.
James Carels, a 16-year-old Strathcona High School student, has been coming every Friday night for the past few months.
"I want to make sure that everybody feels welcome here, no matter who they are," he said.
Carels, who identifies as bisexual, said passersby pelted him with eggs and called him names on the first night he visited, but he considers the protests a highlight of his week.
He said people support each other and offer water and snacks to youth experiencing homelessness.
Pearen said some street preachers have started packing up and leaving the corner earlier than they used to, but others are more confrontational.
She said street preachers have told her she will die, go to hell and burn forever if she does not repent her sins. Some even have a nickname for her: the devil's daughter.
"We are here just to tell the truth of God, the reality of God, because there is no deception in God, there is no confusion in God," said Habtom Tweldebrhan, who was representing the Assembly of Living Christ church at the corner on Friday.
Tweldebrhan said members of his church have been speaking about God on Whyte Avenue for the past four years. He said they will continue to do so, despite the increasing number of protesters.
Pearen said she and fellow protesters have tried but failed to have productive conversations with the street preachers. She said she has offered to go for coffee with them if they agree not to talk about God, but they have refused.
Regular attendee Douglas Parsons said the group recognizes the preachers have freedom of speech.
"But it's not freedom of speech without consequences," he said.
City of Edmonton spokesperson Mary-Ann Thurber said in an email that she could not confirm if the city's naming committee has received an application to name the corner.
Thurber said it takes the volunteer committee time to approve new names and the length of time depends on the completeness of each application.
"Naming is an in-depth process that requires engagement, research and community buy-in," she said.