For many in attendance at Edmonton’s 37th pride parade, the acceptance of the LGBTQ community has come a long way in Alberta in recent years. But political leaders and advocates say it has been their experience that there’s still a long way to go.
Mayor Don Iveson led the parade down a crowd-lined Whyte Avenue on Saturday afternoon, with 15-year-old Francis Nievera by his side.
The Grand Marshals of this year’s parade, the two-spirit community made up of queer Indigenous people, asked both Iveson and Nievera to walk in front on Saturday.
Nievera, who had never attended pride before, was invited to march with Iveson earlier in the week, after protesting the removal of pride decorations at Blessed Oscar Romero High School at the behest of the principal.
Nievera came out as transsexual in Grade 7, but said he’d never before felt targeted for his identity. The principal apologized after the protest — and even raised the pride flag at the school.
Nievera said having leaders like Don Iveson and Premier Rachel Notley, who invited Nievera to raise the Pride flag at the legislature, is an important part of making the LGBTQ community feel safe.
“Knowing that they know you exist and they’re looking after you, it feels like they really have your back and you’re not doing stuff alone,” Nievera said.
Notley was also at the Edmonton Pride parade, as was Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan.
The leaders of the province’s two right-wing political parties both said they would not attend the event because of scheduling.
‘We don’t want kids to have to leave Alberta’
Khan, the first openly gay leader of a provincial political party, said it was hard growing up in Alberta. He didn’t come out until after high school, when he moved to Vancouver.
“We don’t want kids to have to leave Alberta to come out,” said Khan, who thinks that overall, attitudes are much more progressive in the province now than when he was younger.
Emilie Duschene, 24, said it’s important for LGBTQ youth to know that they’re supported. She also didn’t come out until after high school, when she moved to another province.
“I actually moved away to Montreal where things are a lot more accepted out there and I could kind of question myself,” Duschene said.
Duschene works for the Alberta Association of Francophone Youth. She said being part of a “minority within a minority” comes with additional challenges.
“I didn’t do my coming out in high school because I wasn’t comfortable,” she said. “I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t have any models or anything.
“Our group is really working to break that. We don’t want kids to choose between their culture and their queer identity. We want to bring it together.”
Still work to do
MP Randy Boissonnault, who, in 2015, became the first openly gay MP to be elected in Alberta, is hopeful widespread denigration of the LGBTQ community in Alberta “may be a story of the past.”
Boissonnault, the special advisor to the prime minister on LGBTQ issues, said while campaigning, his sexuality was never an issue. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t members of the LGBTQ community in Alberta, across Canada and around the world who face scrutiny.
Boissonnault cited a disproportionately high percentage of homeless youth identifying as LGBTQ as problematic.
“Even in 2017, when they come out, their parents throw them out on the street and that has to stop,” Boissonnault said.
Boissonnault said noted LGBTQ seniors, some of whom end up back in the closet transitioning into care homes, are another vulnerable group.
“We have those battles to continue to face and to fight here,” Boissonnault said.
“At the end of the day, we’re talking about human rights and human dignity.”