Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/6/2016 (1169 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was nearly 30 years ago, but Vic Hooper still remembers Winnipeg’s first Pride Parades. Moreover, he remembers being too scared to go.
"I was afraid to go to Pride, because I was afraid of being discovered and outed," said Hooper. As a teacher, he said he feared he would lose his job if the school system discovered he was gay.
Standing atop the parkade at The Forks, looking out over the tens of thousands of vividly-dressed Winnipeggers celebrating the Pride Festival on Sunday afternoon, Hooper said a lot has changed.
"When you take a look at what’s happening here, particularly with the Human Rights Museum as a backdrop to this wonderful setting at the Forks, it’s stunning," he said, recalling the late ‘80s version of Pride.
"In those days, it wasn’t necessarily a celebration — it was a movement, for action, so that we had our rights and were accepted."
Sunday was the final day of the annual Pride Winnipeg Festival, wrapping up 10 days of celebrations with the customary Pride Parade. With 92 entrants, 2,000 people and tens of thousands more gathered to watch, it was the biggest parade yet in terms of entrants, handily topping last year’s 70 entrants and nearly doubling the approximately 50 entrants from 2014.
Parade participants marched up from the Legislature up Memorial Boulevard to York Avenue, then up York until turning onto Garry Street and looping back down Broadway to the Legislature. This year’s parade was so long that the front-runners crossed the finish line before the tail-end passed the start.
As usual, the parade was preceded by a rally at the Legislature. This year’s event boasted political heft in the form of Premier Brian Pallister, Mayor Brian Bowman, Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and more, as well as Gilbert Baker, who created the now-famous rainbow flag in 1978.
Pallister’s appearance was highly anticipated.
Dressed in a sport coat and James Taylor T-shirt, the premier quoted the musician’s songs of self-acceptance and tolerance, and praised Manitobans as a community that celebrates differences. But, he acknowledged, "there’s progress to be made in every respect."
"I think in the past, for example, advancing women’s rights, advancing indigenous people’s rights, these are things that happen when people set aside partisan politics and just join together arm in arm and just try to do what’s right and best for all of us," he said. "I look forward to continuing that challenge. There’s more to do."
During the election campaign in April, Pallister was accused by former NDP premier Greg Selinger of being homophobic for opposing a 2013 law that requires schools to allow students to set up gay-straight alliances.
He also came under fire for comments he made a decade ago in Parliament when he called same-sex marriage a social experiment.
After winning the April 19 election, Pallister said his party wants to be inclusive of all Manitobans.
"The idea here is obviously everyone should feel included in the province in a real way, not be living in any sense of fear or exclusion," Pallister said.
Selinger was the first premier to attend the annual pride parade, which starts out from the front of the legislature.
Pallister said in an interview last year his position on issues such as same-sex marriage had evolved.
"The fact is what we all want to see is loving relationships supporting — when desired — children, and we want to see strong families."
Reflecting on the Premier’s appearance, Pride Winnipeg president Jonathan Niemczak said he hoped it signalled the province will soon provide more than symbolic support.
While Niemczak said Manitoba is a "progressive" province, like Pallister, he stressed some things still need to change.
"The time has come that we do need to have the LGBTTQ* rights movement included in the school curriculum and taught as part of history courses," Niemczak said, adding it was for students’ safety as much as their education.
"I feel like until we include the LGBTTQ* rights within that, we’re always going to have this struggle with safe schools," he went on. "You can print policies all you want, but it’s not going to make a difference if students are closed-minded and not exposed to those topics throughout their school term."
Niemczak said Pride Winnipeg will discuss the issue over the summer, then put together a task force to present it to the province.
Bowman also addressed the crowd at the rally. This Wednesday, he is expected to introduce a motion to the executive policy committee requesting a comprehensive policy review of the City of Winnipeg’s programs and services to look for opportunities to improve inclusivity. Data collection, for instance, frequently asks respondents to identify as either male or female, leaving out many Winnipeggers who don’t fit into the gender binary.
For Hooper, the day was "exciting," not only because of the political punch it packed, but because of the popular support.
"After the parade, walking down Broadway… It was wall-to-wall, all four lanes or five lanes, all across, walking towards The Forks. It was like Toronto on Yonge Street, you know? It was just packed with people who were celebrating gay pride."
Visibly emotional, Hooper was laughing as he teared up.
"It’s starting to hit my emotions," he said. "It’s just great. I don’t know what to say."
Updated on Sunday, June 5, 2016 at 1:46 PM CDT: Fixes typo
5:37 PM: Updates with writethru
7:31 PM: Changes photo; adds gallery.