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Winnipeg Pride parade steers clear of politics

Canada's first Pride fest of 2010 prefers to party

Drag queens Pictoria Secrete (Brent Young) and Gloria Hole (Bob Burgess).

As Toronto Pride explodes into a deepening identity crisis, queers in Winnipeg proved they just wanna have fun.

Canada’s Pride season kicked off Sunday with the biggest, gayest party Manitoba’s capital has ever seen. The only casualty was politics.

“Winnipeg is the human rights capital of the world,” announced the city’s charmingly hyperbolic former mayor, Glen Murray, who spoke to a crowd of 5,000 on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature and served as grand marshal of the parade. “A strong, powerful message from Winnipeg is emanating across the world.”

But if queers in other parts of the world — or even other parts of Canada — aren’t as fortunate as those in the so-called Pride of the Prairies, no one breathed a word or waved a sign about it at Winnipeg Pride. The only hint of politics at the event, besides the participation of some local politicians, came from a few student activists handing out buttons calling on Health Canada to lift the ban on gay blood and a small band of black-hooded anarchists with signs saying “Fuck the police.”

Unlike in Toronto, Winnipeg parade-goers weren’t confronted by groups like Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, forcing marchers to debate the future of the gay rights movement.

But no one seemed to care.

DYKE POWER

Jess Leppik, Lauren Bosc, Joey Lowen (photo by sarah.k)

This year’s Winnipeg Pride festival celebrated many firsts — first major bank sponsor (TD), first beer tent and first time at the Forks.

It also got its first-ever Dyke March.

About 100 queer women and their fans answered a grassroots call from Jess Leppik, Joey Lowen and Lauren Bosc, who started a Facebook group called Winnipeg Dyke March and turned it into a short parade down a sidewalk in West Broadway. (The organizers, who didn’t bother to get a parade permit, encouraged participants to stay off the street.)

“All of us are creating change just by being here,” Leppik told the crowd. “We are a vision of what community looks like. It goes without saying that this will not be the last Dyke March.”

Winnipeg Pride organizers promised a “bigger, better Pride” — and they delivered. By the time marchers and floats arrived at the city’s Forks meeting ground for an outdoor concert headlined by pop diva Deborah Cox, local media estimated the crowd at 10,000. For a couple of hours, the festival was reminiscent of Pride at Toronto’s Church and Wellesley — packed. Winnipeg Pride’s first-ever beer tent was so stuffed with queers sipping on specially brewed “Queer Beer” there was a never-ending lineup of people waiting to get in.

“It’s an amazing day,” exclaimed Gina McKay, who said she and a few others “condom-blitzed” the parade with 8,000 safe-sex kits — 3,000 more kits than last year.

“It’s perfection,” added Susan Livingston, who promoted “passion parties” for her business, Sugar Passions, at the Pride community fair and raved about how “receptive” everyone was to her sex toys.

Livingston said she liked having the festival at the Forks rather than under the shadow of the Legislature, like in previous years. “It’s a political building, so there was always a cloud over it,” she said. “Here, there’s a freer atmosphere.”

The hot sun burned many careless party-goers, but the only rumblings of discontent were about the shortened parade route that — for the first time in many years — avoided the famous intersection of Portage and Main.

“I would have liked a longer parade,” said Stuart Desnomie, who echoed the sentiments of many others around him. “This year it seemed a little too short.”

Not everyone minded, though. Drag queen Brent Young, aka Pictoria Secrete, said it was a welcome relief for those who had to endure the march in high heels.

“It’s kind of nice we didn’t have to go as far,” said Young, “but I hope it goes back to the longer route next year.”