Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pride parade lets Iranian show his true colours without fear

'Love is here'

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Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press

Participants in the 2014 Pride Parade walk along Memorial Boulevard.

Pride Winnipeg's 2014 grand marshal, Hamed, 29, used to fear for his life growing up in Iran.

Being gay was outlawed in his native country, so he couldn't risk telling anyone about his true identity.

"Through Muslim religion, you can't be homosexual at all. Even if you are, they're going to kill you," said Hamed.

On Sunday, his life came full circle as he led the proceedings at the 27th annual Pride parade in Winnipeg.

"Today I was the centre of attention somehow, and that was a really good experience, but it was very different for me," he said after the parade.

Shades and good spirits were the only requirements for attending Sunday's flagship event, which parade and rally director, Ryan Zacharias, estimated drew about 10,000 people to the Manitoba legislature and its surrounding area.

Just over 1,000 colourful personalities, 52 fantastical floats and a handful of decorated dogs marched in the parade, which wound down Memorial Boulevard and around the streets of downtown Winnipeg. The procession effectively conquered seven blocks of traffic before returning to the legislative grounds.

"There was no space in any of the medians or along the sidewalks this year; it was completely packed with people. It was amazing," said Zacharias.

Many little ones waddled around, some pushed in wagons and others hanging from baby carriers on their parents' bellies.

Eight-month-old Hadley Harding was part of the latter group.

"It's her first Pride and my 21st Pride," said smiling dad, Garry, who parked himself on Memorial with friends and husband, Jason Hamilton.

Another parent, Mandy Wood, emphasized the importance of having her kids take part in Pride. She was excited to show her four-year-old, Olivia, and Olivia's friend, Chase, what the celebrations were all about.

"I want them to know that being gay is accepted," said Wood. "But it's really just a big party for them right now," she said jokingly.

And for first-time parade-goer Mistee McLean, showing her support for the LGBTQ community seemed like a no-brainer, especially on an ultra-sunny day like Sunday.

"We're all entitled to our rights and freedoms of speech, so why not support happiness?" said McLean.

"Love is real, love is queer and love is here," said another proud attendee, Zoe Prefontaine.

After making the rounds in a slow-rolling convertible leading the Pride pack, Hamed said he will never forget the love he felt on Sunday and throughout Pride's weeklong festivities.

Pride's 2014 theme, Without Borders, couldn't have been more appropriate for host Hamed. He fled to Canada from Iran two years ago after feeling constantly scared living in a country where being gay was illegal.

"Every day, every minute, every second, you have this fear that someone might find out your real sexual orientation, and that's the end of you," said Hamed.

Four years ago, when Hamed's then-boyfriend's family found out their son was dating a man, they threatened Hamed's life. They claimed it was his negative influence that was making their son gay.

"This drove me to the point where I just closed my eyes, bought a ticket and left Iran."

Hamed never told his family why he left so abruptly, but they found out why from a Facebook post years later.

One of Hamed's friends posted a link to a Free Press story where Hamed was interviewed, talking about how he came to Canada to live freely. His sister stumbled upon the link and was shocked by what she discovered.

"She was asking me 'What's going on with you?' And she was just so upset until I explained to her what it means to be gay," said Hamed. "She had no idea what it means to be gay or lesbian. She felt like it was just a childish habit."

Hamed sent his sister lots of articles and information on gay culture, something she didn't know existed. And after reading them, she eventually re-accept her brother into her life, at least conditionally.

"She says, 'I love you as a brother, but I don't want to hear about your private life.' "

Hamed's parents haven't been as progressive.

"They never could understand or accept it. But my sister, she's younger, she's very educated and she has a better understanding than 60- or 70-year-old parents could... they already have their minds made up."

After experiencing so much love and acceptance during Pride, Hamed said he knows he made the right move in coming to Winnipeg.

"I feel thrilled today with all of the attention and love I see. Today, I saw only love in people's eyes," Hamed said.

"I want it to stay like this forever."


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 2, 2014 B1

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