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Pride makes its return

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 07/14/2017 11:15 AM

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Michelle McHale, Karen Phillips, and Chris Plett march in last year’s Steinbach Pride March for Equality.

IAN FROESE | CARILLON ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Michelle McHale, Karen Phillips, and Chris Plett march in last year’s Steinbach Pride March for Equality.

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Steinbach Pride’s second annual March for Equality takes place on Saturday morning, and a spokesperson for the event’s organizing committee has indicated this year will bring both continuity and change.

Co-chair Chris Plett called 2017 a "transition year" for the event, with organizers looking to capitalize on what worked last year, recalibrate what did not, and lay the groundwork for an expanded event in 2018. Cultivating a consistent public profile in the community, to increase the group’s visibility year-round, is also a priority for the steering committee, Plett said, adding Michelle McHale will step back from her lead role after this year’s event.

For now, however, organizers are focused on finalizing practical details.

"We had a few surprises in the preparation," Plett acknowledged. The City of Steinbach, he explained, is requiring the private event to cover the cost of signage and barricades, and have the necessary insurances in place.

"We just had to pull up our socks and get the money raised," Plett said.

Attendance expectations for this year’s march are comparable to those for last year, with allies and community groups from Manitoba and beyond communicating their intent to attend, Plett remarked.

Steinbach Pride organizers are also paying close attention to the tone of this year’s event, which Plett said will feature "more of a gentle stand," while holding firm on its core convictions and goals.

"Last year it was aggressive," he acknowledged.

To that end, a theme has been chosen for this year’s march: neighbours.

"The whole ‘Good fences make good neighbours’—that is so not true. We want to tear those fences down and get to know our neighbours," Plett stated. "We want to stand beside each other because the job is huge in Steinbach. We want to build a bridge."

Organizers have therefore decided to scratch politician speeches at the march, as feedback from last year indicated personal or "heartfelt" messages from members of the Steinbach and Manitoba Pride communities were more widely appreciated than partisan political speeches, Plett explained.

"Every Pride should be a little political, but we wanted to remember that… there’s a lot of issues going on right now," he said.

This year’s event will also employ the acronym 2STLGBQ*. According to Steinbach Pride, the ordering of the letters foregrounds the struggle of transgender individuals to share fully in the advances achieved by Pride movements, and acknowledges that Two-Spirited people predated the arrival of colonial settlers in Canada.

While last year’s event broke new ground in Steinbach, Plett said this year’s march has the benefit of building upon related community events from the past year, most notably a Steinbach Neighbours for Community drama production entitled Still Listening…Voices Among Us, with which Plett was involved. He listed local gay-straight alliances and mental health awareness efforts as two other related social currents that function as stepping stones for the march.

While the question of which, if any, local elected officials would attend the inaugural march dominated news headlines across Canada a year ago, Plett seemed unconcerned with pinning down politician attendance this year.

Provencher MP Ted Falk said last year he would never attend a Steinbach Pride event.

In February, Steinbach MLA Kelvin Goertzen issued a statement confirming he would not attend the march, and said last year’s event dedicated too much time to "shaming individuals."

On Wednesday, Steinbach mayor Chris Goertzen told The Carillon he will not attend Saturday’s march due to a "family event." Asked if he would attend in the march in the absence of conflicting engagements, he replied, "At this time, no."

"What’s important is that when we build a community…we work, not just one day, but 365 days, at making our community better, and that’s what we’ll concentrate on," he elaborated.

While Plett said the absence of local elected officials continues to be disappointing, he expressed a desire to dialogue with them in the coming year, "as people across the table."

"It’s not okay," he said. "But we’re not going to chase after them. We have our hand extended."

He later clarified, "We all have been shamed enough in our lives that we know that we don’t want to shame other people…all we’re trying to do is hold our elected officials accountable, which is the democratic process."

March participants are being asked to assemble in K.R. Barkman Park at 10:30 a.m. Following an Indigenous blessing from Harmony Knott, speeches will commence at 11 a.m., featuring remarks from McHale, Plett, Gay Boese, Brielle Arian Beardy-Linklater, Andra MacAuly, and Uzoma Chioma.

Next, a 1,500-metre march will take participants west down Main Street to Reimer Avenue, and back to K. R. Barkman Park via Elmdale Street. Eastbound lanes on Main Street will remain open to traffic, while westbound Main Street traffic east of the water tower will be detoured onto Hespeler Street and McKenzie Avenue. Reimer Avenue between Main Street and Elmdale Street, and Elmdale Street to Kroeker Avenue, will also be closed during the march, but will reopen soon after. RCMP will direct traffic and provide security for march participants.

Those interesting in volunteering at the event can message the Steinbach Pride Facebook page, or email pride.steinbach@gmail.com. Attendees are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items for South East Helping Hands.

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