Front

Don’t rain on our parade

Annual Pride Parade has lost its political bent, but not its symbolic importance

Do you remember your first parade? Maybe you were waving to Santa Claus and
his eight plastic reindeer from the curb in November; maybe a local dance
troupe was pelting you with stale Dubble Bubbles as they frolicked their way
down Jasper Ave on Canada Day. But then you got older, and after that one
time you dressed up as the Kool-Aid man as a favour to your neighbour and
nearly passed out from the heat as you waved to terrified toddlers, parades
lost their magic.

But even the most jaded among us are still excited by the prospect of the
Edmonton Pride Week Society’s annual gay pride parade that will wend
its way down Jasper this Saturday (June 18). Whether it’s for the
expression of human rights, the hedonistic atmosphere, or simply out of
curiosity, the event has historically gathered more than 10,000 participants
and spectators interested in what the GLBT community has to say.

But while the first gay pride parades in the prairies weren’t always as
highly publicized or recognized by the community as they are today, Lance
Anderson, volunteer co-ordinator for the EPWS, says that when he first
marched in Regina back in the early ’90s, the size of the parade
didn’t matter—the GLBT ideals of equality and diversity were
still heard. “There were about 100 of us marching and about a third of
those people marched with paper bags on their heads,” Anderson recalls.
“Even though they weren’t out, they still wanted to be recognized
without losing their jobs and families. But it got bigger, people started
paying attention; the paper bags disappeared, and in five years everything
changed into what we see today in Edmonton.”

Currently, Edmonton Pride Week is a 10-day celebration of gay culture which
enters the planning phase as early as November. It starts with a kickoff
reception at City Hall where the rainbow Pride flag is raised, the annual
Pride Awards are handed out and a display of Edmonton Queer history is
unveiled; as well, scattered over the course of the week there will be
several showcases of queer theatre and music as well as parties at local
clubs.
With its current focus on the arts and community service, Edmonton Pride has
come a long way from its fiercely political origins. Back when North American
women first began clearing their throats to roar and African-Americans
proclaimed that “black was beautiful,” the GLBT minority was also
busy fighting a battle for equality. It was 1969, on the streets of New York
City when thousands of gays and their supporters physically engaged police
for days after an unconstitutional raid of a popular gay bar called the
Stonewall Inn. The violent demonstration, referred to as “the
hairpin-drop heard ’round the world,” speaks volumes about the
GLBT community’s frustration with the constant discrimination and
hatred that still exists today, particularly in Alberta.

“I think if I ever saw Ralph Klein at a Pride parade, I might pee my
pants,” Anderson says. “Edmonton Pride brings everyone up and
brings out that attitude of being gay in Alberta to another level, like we
have more to prove. There’s still bashings, but with 10,000 people
walking beside you down Jasper Ave, you feel safe and part of something
big.”

In the only province with a premier who has made it his mission to deny
same-sex couples the right to marry, and fear of bashings and obscenities
preventing gay men and women from public displays of affection,
discrimination is prevalent and will, it seems, continue to exist far into
the future. Still, politics aren’t at the forefront of this
year’s Edmonton Pride; instead of fighting the battle against
intolerance that existed long before Stonewall, Edmonton Pride aims to make
people feel comfortable with who they are and become educated about what
they’re not without feeling suffocated by the inherent social and moral
issues associated with homosexuality.

“A lot of people attack Pride, and especially the parade,” says
Anderson. “Sure, there’s the women with their shirts off and the
guys in short-shorts and there’s the drag queens—but Pride is
supposed to be inclusive for everybody and in any capacity they want to
participate in. If you don’t know about something, you won’t be
comfortable with it. It can make it touchy for a lot of the people in the
GLBT community too, but the whole idea is that if you walk the parade and
hold your husband’s hand, it might not be so weird to do it the next
Saturday, without a whole parade around. If not, at least respect the two
guys who do.”

According to Edmonton councilor Michael Phair, a lot has changed since the
early ’80s when he and other members of the GLBT community gathered for
summer ballgames and picnics as acts of Pride. While he recognizes that
Edmonton Pride might not have the same aggressive political stance that it
did when the gay rights movement began, Phair says Pride will continue to
serve its purpose and effect change—but only once the GLBT community
expresses its solidarity and recognizes diversity within its own ranks.

“Once we get past a few of the political issues, particularly marriage
and the province’s stance,” he says, “then I think we need
to do some more inward work and speak to the discrimination in the GLBT
community. There’s quite a way to go with the transgender community and
I suspect that there’s a larger group of aboriginal and ethnic groups
who don’t feel included. It’s about respect and inclusion. With
Pride, we speak to the citizens of Edmonton and the broader community, and
embrace people who are part of our community as citizens and respect every
individual.

“A lot has changed,” Phair continues. “The city’s
become much more sober in the past 15 years, and with Edmonton’s
population compared to Montreal’s or Toronto’s, the GLBT
community is relatively well-represented and supported at Pride. But we will
always have a ways to go.” V

Edmonton Pride Week Parade
Jasper Ave, from 108 St to 99 St • Sat, June 18 (2pm)

Leave a Comment

*