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Filled with pride and ready to marshal
Long-time gay rights activists to lead Pride parade
Rich North and Chris Vogel will be filled with pride in more ways than one on June 3.
That’s when the Wolseley-based couple will be Grand Marshals at this year’s Pride parade, which will mark the end of the 10-day Pride 25 festival that celebrates the lesbian, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit and queer (GLBTTQ) community.
The couple will speak at the rally on the grounds of the Manitoba legislature at 11:30 a.m. to kick off the parade through downtown.
After decades of championing human rights advancements and fighting for the rights of same-sex couples, the pair is thrilled to be flying the flag at the upcoming event.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so it’s a great honour," North said. "We are thrilled to be asked to do it and follow in the footsteps of people like (former Winnipeg mayor) Glen Murray, who did it a few years ago."
The couple were integral members of the Campus Gay Club at the University of Manitoba in 1973, just as the organization was evolving into the province’s first gay liberation organization — Gays for Equality — which introduced gay rights issues into Manitoba politics in the provincial election of 1973.
"Back then, university campuses housed radical groups as they were a safe haven," Vogel, 65, said, noting he spent a decade growing up Tuxedo. "They were islands in an otherwise homophobic society," North, 60, added.
In 1974, they were married at the Unitarian Church of Winnipeg and took the provincial government to court when the Registrar of Vital Statistics refused to register their union. It was the first case in Canadian law to challenge the exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage.
North said the pair’s battle for human rights equality led to a 59-day hunger strike in 1985 to protest the failure of the government to include sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination in the Manitoba Human Rights Act.
"I didn’t cheat and only had water for 59 days. Before that, we lobbied the government for six months," North said. "I’d heard the average IRA hunger striker lasted, on average, 66 days before death."
"It wasn’t just a matter of stopping eating; it was fundamentally a platform for the silence surrounding homosexuality. When I was growing up, there was nothing on TV or in the movies and media coverage tended to be negative.
"Now it’s a different ball game. And kudos to President Obama for taking a stance on same-sex marriage. He should be commended," he added.
For revellers who work up a thirst in the excitement of Pride Winnipeg, Half Pints Brewing Co. has produced a Queer Beer to mark the occasion.
The brew is available at various locations across the city including the St. James-based brewery’s retail store, MLCC Liquor Marts at River and Osborne and Grant Park, as well as Gio’s, Fame and Club 200. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Pride Winnipeg.
For more information, visit www.pridewinnipeg.com.
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