Winnipeg Pride Parade won't be 'relegated to a side street' with new route down Portage

Pride Winnipeg unveiled a new parade route that will take it through the heart of downtown Winnipeg on June 2.

2018 brought criticism from some in LGBTQ community over York Avenue route less visibility

Marchers hold a 'Pride' sign at the 2018 march. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Winnipeg's Pride Parade will take over one of the city's main arteries this year thanks in part to pushback from a parade marshal and others during last year's less prominent march.

At the beginning of the 2018 parade, Brielle Beardy-Linklater took the podium at the steps of the legislature and addressed the crowd about a need to bring Pride "back to its radical roots."

The parade was to go down York Avenue instead of Portage Avenue, but the two-spirit woman and advocate led a group of 30 to 40 mostly queer, two-spirit, transgender people of colour down Portage nonetheless, chanting "don't hide pride."

On Friday, Pride Winnipeg announced the 32nd annual parade will head down Portage on June 2. 

"I'm absolutely thrilled because it means the work that I did last year paid off and that indeed people are listening and listening to the community," she said. "I knew what I was doing when I did it."

Brielle Beardy-Linklater marches in the 2018 Winnipeg Pride Parade. (Submitted by Jasmine Tea)

The new route will start with a rally at the legislature like in past years. From there people will march from Memorial Boulevard east down Portage to near Shaw Park and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Importance of visibility

Parade director Micaela Reeve said putting the route on display in the heart of downtown is a monumental change.

Last year the parade was shorter and out of the way. It was still a hit, Reeve said, but it wasn't as accessible or visible as it should be.

"It's just such a big part for the community to be visible to everyone and it really shows the acceptance of our city as well as the community sponsors," Reeve told CBC Up to Speed host Ismaila Alfa. "It should be an event that people feel happy and proud to be a part of."

The 2019 Winnipeg Pride Parade route. (Submitted by Pride Winnipeg)

The volunteer-run non-profit spends months obtaining licences and preparing its application and desired route for approval by the city. There were several restrictions that made going down Portage impossible last year, said Reeve, including financial limitations and the layered city approval process.

A city spokesperson said in an email Saturday that the Portage Avenue route was discussed with Pride organizers before the 2018 parade, but was deferred at that point for two reasons — including the Winnipeg Jets' playoff run.

"The amended route was proposed less than a month prior to the 2018 event, which would not have provided enough time to the City's required departments to plan and resource a significant parade along Portage Avenue," the spokesperson wrote.

In addition, "The Winnipeg [Jets] Whiteout street parties were ongoing at the time, which posed a significant risk for conflicting closures," the city said.

The group worked closely with the city and mayor's office this year to secure the Portage route, and they hope to hold onto Portage moving forward.

"We are one of the few cities across Canada that didn't have pride happening on a major route [last year], so that is a precedent for us to hopefully get this route on a permanent basis," said Reeve.

Reeve acknowledged that protests over last year's route had an impact on this year's route change.

"To an extent it definitely did get some of the people in the city to see that it is extremely important to the community," said Reeve.

Not just a party

Queer People of Colour Winnipeg gives credit to Linklater-Beardy's actions highlighting the lack of visibility last year when the parade was "relegated to a side street."

Members of the group followed her down the alternate route last year.

"I absolutely think that Brielle's protest and leadership last year undoubtedly had an influence in ensuring that Pride this year is a visible event," said Karen Sharma, a queer South Asian organizer with QPOC.

Karen Sharma is an organizer with QPOC Winnipeg. (Submitted by Karen Sharma)

"She really led the path and said, 'We're not really going to wait for Pride Winnipeg to change the venue. We're here and we're queer and we're going to be visible and out in the street.'"

Pride festivals everywhere are often looked at as parties, but they are much more than that, said Sharma. The history of the movement is one of challenging barriers to equality, health services, housing, employment and more.

"For years now the community has been raising the need to ensure that pride is not only a celebration of our existence as queer, trans, black, Indigenous people of colour and the community more broadly, but also recognizes the protest roots of this event, that it's a political demonstration, that it's about highlighting the need for visibility and the need for equality and equity for queer and trans folks."

'Felt great to rebel'

The spirit of queer activists who came before her fuelled the decision to chart a different course in 2018, said Beardy-Linklater.

"We just did what we felt was right to do and we marched down Portage," she said. "It felt great to rebel."

The 2019 Winnipeg Pride Parade festival theme and nominations for parade marshals will be announced in March.

With files from Kim Kaschor