Steinbach Pride celebrates after on-street parade permit granted

Organizers of Steinbach's inaugural Pride march have finally been granted a permit for the July 9 parade, which allows the event to take to the streets rather than stay on the sidewalk.

Groups coming from as far as Florida expected among 1,000 attending the event

Steinbach's inaugural Pride parade is set for July 9. (Paul Vance/Shutterstock)

Organizers of Steinbach's inaugural Pride march have finally been granted a permit for the July 9 parade, which allows the event to take to the streets rather than stay on the sidewalk.

"I'm very excited and very pleased," said parade organizer and Steinbach Pride spokeswoman Michelle McHale.

She said she expects around 1,000 people to attend, which is far more than the original estimate of about 200.

"It's really quite something," McHale said, adding she has been told a carload of people from Northern Ontario are coming, as well as others from as far as the British Columbia and Florida.

The permit to march on the street was initially denied by the RCMP, who cited "safety reasons" due to road construction. Organizers were told instead they would have to stick to the sidewalk.

After some route reworking by organizers, the RCMP said they would reassess their decision.

It was announced late Tuesday on the Facebook page for Steinbach Pride that the RCMP reversed the decision then negotiated with the city to get the permit approved.

"The RCMP have been amazing. They've worked closely with us," said McHale.

The new parade route will begin at E.A. Friesen Park, adjacent to the Jake Epp Library, and proceed to city hall.

"The walk will be a bit shorter, but it is really the rally at city hall that is most important," states the posting on the group's Facebook page.

Parade divides city

The march has revealed a split in Manitoba's third-largest city, with some residents opposed to it and many politicians saying they will not attend.

Conservative MP Ted Falk, Mayor Chris Goertzen and MLA Kelvin Goertzen have said they are not going. As well, the city's mayor and city council released a written statement last week, saying they would not endorse the event but that the LGBT community is welcome in the city.

Steinbach boasts a large faith community, and a number of residents have cited their Christian beliefs as a reason for refusing to back the march.

Others, however, are fully in support, including Manitoba's newly installed commanding officer for the RCMP, Scott Kolody. On Monday, he said he would personally march in the parade.

"I will be there, my officers will be there and I know this will be a great event for all," he said.

RCMP have previously said they would be taking part in the parade, but this is the first time the force's commanding officer in Manitoba has spoken on the issue.

McHale said the RCMP's support has inspired others to attend the march as well.

"Since we've released some information stating that the RCMP are planning security for the event and that kind of thing, some people are saying, 'Well, given that, then we'll attend too,'" she said.

With the permit issue resolved, McHale said it's important for people to understand that the event is about showing support for the LGBT community through strength in numbers, not about fighting for equality by using violence.

"It's really important that people come out to show love and support to the LGBTQ community ... it's not about challenging people who oppose this," McHale said.

She said there have been comments on social media about wanting to riot to even the score for all the violence ever perpetuated against the LGBT community.

Some comments referenced the Stonewall Riots of 1969 between police and gay rights activists outside the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York's Greenwich Village, which later gave rise to the gay rights movement.

The Steinbach Pride Facebook page administrators posted a note to the site calling on people not to resort to violence and stressing the difference between the current situation and the issues that led to the Stonewall Riots.

"The Stonewall Riots were in response to police brutality, which we do not have here," states the message.

"The Stonewall riots were about a community fighting back after being beaten. Yes, we are also fighting for equal rights, but the RCMP, the law and history are all on our side this time.

"Violence and aggression are not the answer, and will not be tolerated," the post said.

With files from The Canadian Press