Steinbach Pride organizer says inaugural parade a step forward

People across the country had their eyes on Steinbach, Man., on Saturday as the community hosted its first Pride parade.

Michelle McHale says support for the LGBT community was overwhelming

Thousands of people took part in the first Pride parade in Steinbach, Man. (CBC)

People across the country had their eyes on Steinbach, Man., on Saturday as the community hosted its first Pride parade.

Organizers initially expected about 200 people would visit the southern Manitoba city to celebrate the LGBT community. On Saturday, police estimated between 2,500 and 5,000 people travelled to the community of about 13,500 for the parade.

"It was overwhelming and it just proved our point, right, that most of the world, the country, the province really wants to see equality in every community," said Pride spokeswoman Michelle McHale.

"So it meant the world to see that many people show up and just show the LGBTQ in Steinbach somebody is looking out for you."

Organizers faced many struggles leading up to the parade.  A number of residents cited their Christian beliefs as a reason for refusing to back the event, although some Christians have expressed support.

Conservative MP Ted Falk refused to attend and released a statement saying, "I've been clear on this issue many times and have made my position public on my values of faith, family, and community."

Michelle McHale speaks to the crowd before the parade in Steinbach. (CBC)
McHale said before the parade, she'd had her own experiences with backlash in the community founded by Mennonites in 1874.

McHale said her 12-year-old child was being bullied for living in a household with two moms. When McHale asked the school to talk with students about the many definitions of family, which include same-sex couples, she said she was told teachers were prohibited from speaking about homosexuality in the classroom.

The Public Interest Law Centre has submitted a complaint to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission on behalf of McHale.

The parade will have lasting significance in the community, McHale added.

"We've received a bunch of messages already saying that [people] went into establishments that normally they were nervous to be in before or there was nothing said and people are saying, 'We support you, we just didn't want any conflict,' " McHale said.

"It sounds like there are people who are speaking up and showing their support who were otherwise silent. So that's amazing and that's powerful."

With the flood of positivity, there have also been negative messages, and McHale is reminding people to stay safe and allies to stay vigilant.

"Allies need to stand up because some of this will generate some additional backlash if people are uncomfortable," she said.

"We are going to really need our allies to watch for those things happening in the community and say, 'Hey, that's not okay,' or just walk alongside somebody who is nervous to be in the community."

In the long term, McHale said she thinks it's the first step for the southern Manitoba community to accept and embrace their LGBT members.

"[There were] so many people. You can't ignore a statement like that," she said.

Steinbach Pride: Manitoba community hosts first ever Pride parade

6 years ago
Duration 1:59
'Everybody has rights - black, white, gay, straight - everybody. This is history in the making for Steinbach,' says resident Lillian Bouderlique