Growing up he’d see the pictures in the paper.
Drag queens, rainbow flags, and gay guys.
While his peers scoffed about Winnipeg Pride being in the news, Garrett Wipf thought one day “I’ll be there.”
Then last year he was.
Wipf fled his rural Manitoba Hutterite colony for Winnipeg in 2014 at age 16, and came out earlier this year as gay. He remembers the day he left like it was yesterday.
“March 23 10 o’clock in the morning I decided just to run away.”
It was the first time Wipf ever left Homewood Colony on his own. The community is located about 45 minutes away from the City of Winnipeg.
“I threw everything in garbage bags, ran to our Styrofoam factory [to meet] my friend and never looked back after that,” he says.
Wipf says he had to leave because his mother confronted him about being gay.
“It wasn’t very pleasant. She disowned me.”
“I was just in shock. I honestly just sat there and [had] questions running through my head. Who did I talk to about this?” he recalls.
He says he was scared his mom would make good on her threat to report him to the colony’s minister, who is the leader of the community.
“I know what would happen it’s very simple.”
His options: Turn straight or “you’re not my child.”
“I tried telling her it’s not an option, but she’s a very stubborn woman,” he says.
Wipf says if the matter went to the minister he would’ve been evicted from the colony.
“Just probably taken downtown [and told]: ‘walk,’” he says, throwing up his hands.
Growing up, Wipf says he quietly looked up to Kelly Hofer, another gay Hutterite from Manitoba, who broke community lines when he came out at age 19.
“I did secretly because he is probably the most hated Hutterite,” Wipf says.
(Kelly Hofer, 23, also fled his Hutterite colony in rural Manitoba. /Submitted by Kelly Hofer)
“It’s pretty gratifying to hear,” says Hofer, now 23, when reached by phone in Calgary, Alberta.
Hofer says there’s been a significant change in mindset amongst young people living in his colony.
“Not just tolerance but kind of acceptance within some people that I totally didn’t expect.”
Hofer’s story is documented in an online documentary entitled Queer Hutterite Misfit on the Colony.
Wipf is working on writing a book to tell his story, but he believes the book and this Daily Xtra article will create controversy.
“Yes, there will be,” he says, speaking firmly of possible repercussions for speaking out.
“I want them all to know that we’re not afraid to fight for other gay Hutterites,” he says.
“I’m not afraid of talking about this.”
He says his book will include a section about the depression he endured while growing up, and past suicide attempts.
“There was a couple of those.”
“Being told that it’s a sin and that it’s disgusting and that you’re going to hell for it. It does something to a younger mind.”
Wipf says that depression melted away when he left the colony and today he’s in a much better place mentally.
He says he’s adapted well to city life. Since moving to Winnipeg, he’s made friends in the gay community, gone to gay bars, and dated guys.
(Garrett Wipf now lives in Winnipeg. Here, he stands below a new part of the city’s renovated downtown convention centre on July 3, 2o16./Austin Grabish/Daily Xtra)
You wouldn’t know Wipf was a Hutterite at first glance. He’s deliberately changed his appearance to be himself. The only thing revealing his Hutterite identity is his thick Austrian accent.
There are no suspenders or black pants today. Instead, he’s wearing a long knit sweater from H&M, flip-flops, a rainbow lanyard, ripped pants and a black cross.
“It’s a little reminder of where I came from,” he says of the cross.
When Wipf fled the colony, he still had about a year and a half left of high school.
He still plans to finish school through a continuing education program and then wants to become a nurse.
Ironically he’s now working for a Winnipeg construction company run entirely by Hutterites.
“These people are educated and have experience out here. Enough to know it’s okay to be gay, and there’s no problem with it,” he says.