Increasing visibility of LGBTQ community in Pembina Valley leads to sense of safety, connection: advocate

Manitoba's Pembina Valley is slowly becoming safer for its LGBTQ community, an advocate says.

In 2019, Morden held its 1st Pride parade and a clinic specializing in LGBTQ counselling opened in Winkler

Morden Pride founder D Vaisius, left, is hugged by their partner Shay Millar after their address at the parade in June. (Ian Froese/CBC)

The recent opening of an LGBTQ-focused counselling service in Manitoba's Pembina Valley is a sign the community is becoming safer and more inclusive for that group, an advocate says.

After Morden, Man., celebrated its first Pride celebration this past summer, the community has made some strides, says organizer and founder D Vaisius.

Vaisius, who is non-binary and uses the pronouns they and them, grew up in the city about 100 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg.

"In this general area of southern Manitoba it's fairly conservative, and it's very difficult growing up here," they said. 

"Having Pride was hopefully a way to help open that up and make people here feel safer and like they have more connections and more community."

One of those connections was set up just a few months ago with the opening of the area's first counselling service geared specifically toward the LGBTQ community.

The crowd cheers at the launch of the first Pride festival in the city of around 9,000 people. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Greg Costen, the therapist who owns Affirm Counselling, started the practice because he saw a need in the community.

"Society's made great strides in embracing the LGBTQ+ community, but those strides are a little slower in catching on in religiously and socially conservative places," including parts of southern Manitoba, he said.

"Part of my goal is to forward the conversation a little bit, get people talking about it, get people thinking that hey, there's a need out here and a gap, for sure."

Greg Costen is the therapist at Affirm Counselling in Winkler. (Submitted by Greg Costen)

Until lately, many people in the LGBTQ community in the area went to Winnipeg for counselling and specialized care at Klinic or the Rainbow Resource Centre. Some would travel to the city to take part in LGBTQ events or walk in the Pride parade, Vaisius said.

"There was really nothing out here that wasn't going to feel potentially unsafe. There was always a little bit of anxiety that you might get somebody who was not as welcoming as you would hope," they said, although they have personally had good counselling experiences in the area.

"It's very cool to see this particular specializing clinic, especially in Winkler," Vaisius said.

Next steps

Now that Vaisius's group has hosted the first Pride parade in Morden, they want to take their work a step further and create more community groups where LGBTQ people can feel welcome.

This coming year, Vaisius and the rest of the Pride committee are working to start a monthly meet-up, and possibly support groups.

Vaisius hopes the peer and professional support combined will make a difference for people who feel disconnected.

"I hope that they will give people more space and more connections.… Connecting to other people who might have similar experiences or have lived through similar things can kind of break up that isolation for people, I think," they said.

"I think that it helps to open the conversation and I think that it helps to feel represented and seen — to feel like there are spaces where you're safe."

Costen plans to offer educational resources for people in the community who want to know more about promoting the inclusion of LGBTQ people.

This story was gathered as part of CBC's pop-up bureau in Morden and Winkler. CBC will be in the two communities Dec. 9-13. Visit us 1-7 p.m. at Whitecap Coffee in Winkler on Tuesday or 1-7 p.m. at Coffee Culture Cafe and Eatery in Morden on Wednesday. Have a story idea? Email Rachel Bergen.


Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. Email story ideas to