Mennonite mom to march alongside gay son in Steinbach Pride parade

Religion will not get in the way of Mennonite mom Katherina Schattschneider and her support for her gay son, Erich, as they march side by side at Steinbach's very first Pride parade this weekend.

'She's there because of God's love,' Erich Schattschneider says of his 79-year-old mom, Katherina

Katherina Schattschneider, left, and her son Erich, right, will both take part in the inaugural Pride march in Steinbach, Man., on Saturday. (Submitted by Erich Schattschneider)

Religion will not get in the way of Mennonite mom Katherina Schattschneider and her support for her gay son, Erich, as they march side by side at Steinbach's very first Pride parade this weekend.

The parade is set for this Saturday in a region sometimes referred to as Manitoba's Bible Belt.

"You have to support your kids," she said. "Your kids are your kids, and they're nobody else's."

Katherina Schattschneider will turn 80 this year. She grew up on a farm in Alexander, Man.

"My mom's the strongest Christian I know," her son said.

"She [grew] up pretty traditional Mennonite, and because of her faith she can be [at the parade] and love me, and it's because of God's love she's there."

Erich Schattschneider grew up in Winnipeg and both he and his mother live there today, but he said he wants to march in Steinbach because of the city's Mennonite history. Doing so will give him an opportunity, he said, to recognize both his Mennonite heritage and his gay pride at the same time.

"It's nice to celebrate who I am in a place that I feel comfortable and at home with … that I can relate to," he said.

When he invited his mom to march with him and his partner, Jonathan Belhumeur, she responded by saying, "Yeah, I could probably walk that."

Schattschneider said that when he asked her why she will march with him, she told him, "Because you are my son, and you have to support your kid."

This will be her very first Pride parade.

Coming out

Describing what it was like to tell his parents he was gay, Schattschneider said, "It was like my mother and father came home from church from a funeral."

Jonathan Belhumeur, left, and Erich Schattschneider will be getting married later this summer at Knox United Church, and Schattschneider says his mother will be there. (Submitted by Erich Schattschneider)
He said they were worried that he wouldn't have friends and wouldn't be able to keep a job, all due to old stereotypes they had in their minds of what it meant to be gay.

His mother had actually suspected he was gay, Schattschneider said, adding that he learned that she had gone to Mennonite seminars on what to do if one's son is gay.

Even though it was difficult for her at first, he recalls her saying to him, "You're our son, we love you, and that doesn't change."

Schattschneider said it took about a couple of years for his mother to fully come around, but now she's "come full circle."

Schattschneider and Belhumeur, his partner of nearly 10 years, will be getting married this summer at Knox United Church. Schattschneider said his mom will be sitting at the front of the church, supporting him.

It made him emotional just thinking about it, he said, as "she's come a long way from what she was taught."

His mother's support, he added, has shown him "real Christian love."

Schattschneider said that because of that, even though he's no longer a member of a church, he's been able to keep his Christian faith.

Parade controversy

Steinbach Mayor Chris Goertzen, local MLA Kelvin Goertzen and Conservative MP Ted Falk have faced public scrutiny for saying that they will not be attending the Steinbach Pride march.

In a statement issued June 20, Falk said, "I've been clear on this issue many times, and have made my position public on my values of faith, family, and community."

Erich Schattschneider is disappointed by their lack of support.

He said, "It just speaks volumes of how far the people in that community still have to fight just to be treated as equal citizens."

Schattschneider said he believes it's a "cop-out" to cite faith or religious views as reasons to not attend.

He offers his mom as an example, saying, "She doesn't exclude herself because of God. She's there because of God's love."

The City of Steinbach is not endorsing the parade, but a group of local councillors did release a statement stating that the LGBT community is welcome in the city.