The Current

Small-town Pride parades help LGBT Canadians 'feel like whole people, wherever we are'

Some small towns across Canada are celebrating their first ever Pride parades, in what organizers say is an important step forward for LGBT representation in smaller towns and rural areas.

Some small towns across Canada are celebrating their first ever Pride parades

Supporters walk the streets of Altona, Man., during the inaugural Pembina Valley Pride parade on Saturday, June 11, 2022. (Andrew Friesen/CBC)

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The first Pride parade in Altona, Man., was a "monumental moment" for the community and for LGBT kids who live there, says a man who spoke at the parade.

"Just to see gay people and queer allies walking down the streets, it's a huge change," said Greg Klassen, who grew up in nearby Carman, Man., but moved away shortly after he came out in the 1980s.

"It says to these kids that they're going to be OK, that there are people like them, that there are safe places they can go … and that there are people in their community who get it," he told The Current's guest host Duncan McCue.

Altona, a town with a population of just over 4,000 people, held the first-ever Pembina Valley Pride parade two weeks ago

Several other small Canadian towns are also hosting their first-ever Pride parades this year, in what organizers say is an important step forward for LGBT representation in smaller towns and rural areas.

Klassen said speaking at the event in Altona was an exhilarating, full-circle moment for him — and a stark contrast to his experience growing up, when his church and community "didn't really believe that anybody was gay." 

"There was no one to look up to, to say this is what you could be or what you might become," he said.

"I went back to Altona because I wanted those kids to see a happy, successful person who came from … their area," he told McCue.

LISTEN | Greg Klassen addresses Pembina Valley Pride

While there was some opposition to the parade, Klassen said it brought him "an immense amount of joy seeing 500 people march with rainbow flags down the main streets."

"Many gay people move away from their small towns to go to larger cities to find community. And I think that will continue to happen," he said.

"But I think what's important is that we can go back to where we came from, and live if we want to, [and] feel like whole people, wherever we are."

Four young people walk across a rainbow crosswalk in a small Canadian town.
A rainbow crosswalk was installed in Vanderhoof, B.C., last year, but has been vandalized a number of times. (Submitted by Kjerstina Larsen)

Crosswalk photo shoot inspires B.C. Pride

The northern B.C. town of Vanderhoof, population approximately 4,500, is hosting its first Pride event this weekend.

Kjerstina Larsen got the idea to organize it after inviting the public to a Pride-themed photoshoot last year, at the town's rainbow crosswalk. 

"I just thought, 'Hey, you know what? I got 60 people out. I think this town is ready to have a pride event,'" said Larsen, director of Vanderhoof Pride.

The rainbow crosswalk was installed last year, but Larsen said not everyone in Vanderhoof welcomed it, and some locals complained on Facebook that it "wasn't right."

Someone takes a selfie from above. They are wearing a dress made in the colours of the Pride flag, and they are standing outside.
Kjerstina Larsen helped launch the first Pride celebrations in Vanderhoof, B.C., this year. (Submitted by Kjerstina Larsen)

Once installed, it was also vandalized and required repainting, she said. 

"It was kind of difficult to see, but it also led to some really good experiences," she said.

"After it was vandalized for the first time, an elementary school went out there with coloured chalk and they coloured in over the burnouts and stuff, which was really beautiful and touching to see," she said.

Larsen hopes this weekend's parade will lead to more connections among the local community, and opportunities for support or activity groups that meet all year round. For now, she's looking forward to this weekend's festivities.

"We have rock painting and face painting and hula hoop contests … roller skating, tie-dye, just a plethora of activities," she said.

'You could be that spark'

Living on Fogo Island in Newfoundland, Trevor Taylor and his partner would joke that they'd "start our own Pride parade by just grabbing our flags and walking down the street."

But in 2019, Taylor said they "got the gumption" to get a group together and hold a whole week of Pride events, with good attendance at a flag raising, barbecue, beach bonfire, and library readings. They also handed out Pride flags to the wider community.

"That very first year we were very pleased to see that there was so much support in the community, in a small community," said Taylor, the director of Fogo Island Pride.

The first Pride events on Fogo Island in 2019. (Submitted by Fogo Island Pride)

They did encounter some opposition, including Pride flags being ripped down and vandalized.

But Taylor said he's seen the difference that a Pride celebration can make, and has heard from young people on the island that it meant a lot to them to feel supported by their community.

"It started the conversations among families that maybe would have never, never happened," he said.

Taylor said some people have suggested that Pride celebrations are an attempt at "changing the community, [that] we're changing the culture."

"I would argue against that. I think that we're just bringing out what was already there, but never really had the voice," he said.

Two men sit facing the camera, smiling. They are sitting indoors, with their arms around each other's shoulders, against the backdrop of an orange wall.
Trevor Taylor, right, started Fogo Island Pride with his partner, Evan Parson, left. (Submitted by Trevor Taylor)

He thinks the pandemic has helped LGBT people in small towns and rural areas to connect digitally, across provinces and the whole country. 

That could help other small towns start their own Pride parades, he said.

"If you're not seeing it in your own community, reach out to those bigger organizations and ask for that help," he said.

"Maybe you could be that spark."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Enza Uda and Meli Gumus.

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