The Pride Winnipeg Festival is expanding to two days at The Forks this weekend, with double the number of headlining acts.
The 27th annual Pride Winnipeg Festival will begin for the first time on Saturday, May 31, and continue Sunday, June 1. The first Sunday in June is traditionally Pride Day. Last year, about 30,000 people took part in the gay-rights celebration and Pride Winnipeg president Jonathan Niemczak expects an attendance bump to 35,000.
"We're starting to see people coming out at much younger ages than in the past," says Niemczak, overseeing his second festival as president. "They might have already been out but not comfortable attending Pride events. Perhaps the quality of events is more engaging to the public."
The free entertainment kicks off at noon -- the same time as the Pride Parade begins at the Legislative Building -- at the Scotiabank stage with Toronto-based PRTY H3RO, the dance-rock trio behind the radio hit Life of the Party, at 3:15 p.m.
The site will also feature a larger Queer Beer Tent that will accommodate 800 patrons, up from 500 a year ago.
The Sunday-afternoon lineup includes a trio of international performers, beginning at 2:45 p.m. with Thea Austin, the former lead singer of the '90s German Eurodance project Snap!. Following her at 4 p.m. is London-born Luciana, the Queen of Electro, who topped the 2011 Billboard charts with I'm Still Hot. American lesbian rocker Beverly McClellan, a final-four contestant on NBC's The Voice in 2011, closes the festival with a 4:45-5:15 p.m. set.
The festival's theme this year is Without Borders, as Pride Winnipeg looks beyond the Perimeter Highway. Notwithstanding ongoing rights stuggles faced by many in the transgender community, gains have been made by local LGBTTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and two-spirited, intersex and queer/questioning) people.
But Niemczak says that's not the case farther afield; there has been recent anti-gay legislation in Russia, Uganda, India and Nigeria.
"There are serious issues being dealt with all over the world," says Niemczak. "We were trying to see what we could do with our resources that could assist other folk in need, both in Manitoba and globally."
Niemczak recognizes a need for pride events in rural Manitoba, where there has been a surge of homophobia in the wake of the NDP's anti-bullying bill, which included a clause that requires schools to accommodate students who want to start gay-straight alliances.
Pride Winnipeg is lending its expertise to help launch Thompson's one-day festival, called Pride North of 55, set for June 28. Beginning Sept. 1 it will provide Thompson organizers with an annual operating budget of a couple of thousand dollars.
"Pride (organizations) don't engage in this behaviour," says Niemczak. "We're breaking the mould right now. It needs to be done, otherwise we will never see rural prides. We have the resources, so why don't we help?"
It's the same overseas, where LGBTTQ communities are under threat. The No Borders theme was developed while watching how, in the run-up to the Olympics, Russia passed tough anti-gay laws that triggered extreme homophobia.
"We realize we have it pretty good here," says Niemczak. "When we go to North American or international Pride conferences, we talk salaries and marketing and then we meet (people) from Sri Lanka who have about five people in their organization and are trying not to get killed. It really humbles you. We want to bring that humbleness back to the community."
For more festival information, visit www.pridewinnipeg.com.