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Penticton gay group walks in Peach Festival parade

This is SOGALA's first public declaration of being part of community, organizer says

Approximately 20 members and supporters of the South Okanagan Gay and Lesbian Association (SOGALA) marched in the 67th annual Penticton Peach Festival parade on Aug 9. Credit: South Okanagan Gay and Lesbian Association

Approximately 20 members and supporters of the South Okanagan Gay and Lesbian Association (SOGALA) marched in the 67th annual Penticton Peach Festival parade on Aug 9.

SOGALA  organizers described it as Penticton’s first-ever Pride parade.

“For Penticton this is a big deal,” board member David Johnson says. “It’s the first time where we are out there in the public waving our flags saying, ‘We are here and are part of the community.’ I think that’s important in this town.”

SOGALA was joined by members of the local PFLAG chapter, formerly known as Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays.

“I think when we do a parade, it makes it clear to people who might be a little in the closet or totally in — they realize that we can be more out in the community and relax about it,” Johnson says. “I was dressed in pink with pink toenails, pink fingernails and pink shades. I don’t think there was any doubt in anyone’s mind what we were about. We were carrying rainbow flags, and the wind was just perfect for unfurling them.”

Johnson says most people watching the parade were supportive and greeted the group with waves, cheers and words of support. He was especially moved by a 12- or 13-year-old girl who approached him after the parade to tell him that he was awesome and give him a fist pump.

“That was really surprising,” he says. “I don’t think she was gay or anything, but she was saying congratulations. That was totally unsolicited and I was surprised. I’m a 66-year-old man, and this young girl, a normal sort of teenager, said that, and that was really encouraging.”

Mayor Garry Litke thinks the conservative community of just under 37,000 people is changing with the times. “This community is getting more progressive and becoming aware of the fact we are part of a global community and are no longer isolated as an agricultural town in the South Okanagan,” he says. “We welcome the world without regard to religion, class, creed or sexual orientation.”

Litke says he’s glad that SOGALA participated in the parade. “As a teacher of 33 years, I am aware of the difficulties that my LGBT students faced passing through the system, and it’s good that there are networks available for them to reach out to,” he says. “I hope [SOGALA] hands out some contact information so anyone who has some questions can get a hold of them and find out what they are about.”

The two-hour parade is part of the five-day Penticton Peach Festival, which Litke describes as a major tourist attraction and one of the last free major festivals in the province.

Johnson says his group is already excited about participating in next year’s event. “Maybe we’ll have a float, and someone else suggested that we have line dancing,” he says. “There’s good enthusiasm, and people want to do it again. They feel a little pumped and that’s great.”

SOGALA has no plans, however, to organize a Pride parade of its own.

“I don’t think we have numbers, and I think the thing to do would be to join up with Kelowna — and even Kelowna doesn’t have a Pride parade,” Johnson notes. “They have a sort of gathering.”

The Okanagan Pride Festival takes place in Kelowna Aug 9 to 16.