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Steinbach, Manitoba’s first Pride goes protest-free

Thousands flock to support LGBT people in Manitoba’s Bible Belt

Steinbach, Manitoba saw its first Pride march on July 9, 2016, and there were no protesters.

“Love always wins,” said Michelle McHale, the driving force behind the march.

“I never in a million years dreamed that I would see this before me,” she said.

“We kind of thought that if we got all our friends together, family members maybe we’d have 200 people.”

Michelle McHale, left, was the driving force behind Steinbach Pride. She led the Pride march with her partner Karen Phillips. The couple moved to Winnipeg earlier this year after their son was bullied for having two moms. (Austin Grabish/Daily Xtra)

There was no official tally of those in attendance, but an RCMP spokesperson estimated as many as 3,000 people came out to the march and rally.

So many people turned out to support of Steinbach’s first Pride, that the march and a rally that followed at city hall were delayed twice.

“Apparently, our roads are not designed for love,” one man shouted.

McHale told a packed children’s park, where the march started, that traffic was bumper to bumper backed up all the way to Sainte-Anne, Manitoba, located some 15 minutes outside the city.

Organizers of Steinbach Pride say they were overwhelmed by the number of people who showed up in support of the city’s queer community. An estimated 3,000 people attended a march and rally in the rural Manitoba city. (Austin Grabish/Daily Xtra)

It was a historic march for this rural Manitoba city.

Many in Steinbach, a staunchly Conservative and predominately Mennonite community, had fought for months against hosting Pride. Some threatened to protest.

But there were no protesters seen on city streets during the march. Instead, a sea of rainbow colours and signs denouncing homophobic comments made by some community members brushed over this normally quiet city.

Some criticized the noticeable absence of local politicians like Conservative MP Ted Falk, who said attending Pride would go against his beliefs.

Some denounced the decision by politicians like Conservative MP Ted Falk, Manitoba health minister and Steinbach MLA Kelvin Goertzen and the city’s mayor Chris Goertzen to skip Steinbach Pride. (Austin Grabish/Daily Xtra)

Others held signs saying, “God loves gays” and “cancer is not caused by homosexuality,” after a local school trustee in June linked the rise of sex education in Toronto to a heightened risk of cancer, when explaining her opposition to discussing LGBT issues in middle school. 

Many said Steinbach’s first Pride marked a new day for local queer people.

“I’m going to say something that I never thought I’d say in a million years: Happy Steinbach Pride everyone,” said Chris Plett, a local Mennonite.

“A new Steinbach is being born in this moment and freedom for the LGBTTQ community is on its way,” McHale said.

Saint Boniface-Saint Vital MP Dan Vandal read a speech on behalf of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and left a signed copy with Pride organizers.

“We must continue to support those who have experienced discrimination, and remember that we cannot let up on the fight against bigotry,” Vandal said on behalf of Trudeau. 

Jennifer Schroeder, 24, is from Steinbach and held a pink sign that read, “Jesus had two dads and he turned out fine.”

Schroeder said she knew holding the sign went against her family’s beliefs.

“We need to break the lines,” she said. “You know there’s tension here in the community, and we need change to happen.”

Mason Godwaldt, 18, was instrumental in organizing Saturday’s march.

The trans man came out last June. He said there is lots of positive change happening in Steinbach, but many are still scared to admit they are part of the LGBT community.

“That’s because there are still so many people that don’t agree with it. So instead of being shunned by family and friends they hide who they are. They put on a mask and deny them true selves. I know this because I lived that life,” Godwaldt said.

Most of the supporters at Pride who spoke with Daily Xtra were from Winnipeg, but McHale said there were plenty from Steinbach too.

Tyrone Hofer, a gay Hutterite from the area, choked on his words and held his heart as he shared his story about coming out as gay. (Austin Grabish/Daily Xtra)

McHale said she was surprised there were no protesters since some had threatened to take to the streets.

She said she still expects local queer people to encounter resistance and possibly be shunned, but she left those people with a strong message: “We will not be silent any longer.”

She encouraged LGBT people living in the area to find their allies.

“Allies want to help, but they don’t always know what to do,” she said.

She said Steinbach would see Pride again next year.

Steinbach Mayor Chris Goertzen was absent from Saturday’s event. He didn’t reply to requests for comment.