Despite having recognized my queer identity at a very young age, I haven’t been able to attend many pride parades. Until very recently, I had only been to two parades, both of which were in Edmonton.
Thankfully, I added a new pride celebration to my list back in June. The Lethbridge Pride Parade was located on a downtown street, ending at Galt Gardens, a local hangout spot nestled between the Southern Alberta Art Gallery and a popular mall. Onlookers lined the street for a few blocks, clustered together on the sidewalk and sitting in the back of their cars to escape the muggy heat of the day.
The whole of downtown Lethbridge was bursting with rainbows. A variety of local boutiques participated in a last minute window display competition, and the pride flag flew outside of City Hall. Rainbow crosswalks were painted throughout the downtown core, and are still in place almost two months later. It seemed that Lethbridge Pride Fest did a great job developing initiatives for local businesses and government to engage in.
It was also nice to see that the parade took place on such a central road in the downtown core, although my friend and I almost immediately noticed that the street wasn’t blocked off. Participants in the parade were forced to walk or drive on only one side of the street, as cars whizzed on by beside them.
This was far from a welcoming greeting for my friend and me, but we felt optimistic. The parade was considerably smaller than what I was used to in Edmonton, but it felt understandable. Southern Alberta is notorious for its conservative Christian values, so it was a relief to see anyone out at all.
The parade itself featured an eclectic mix of participants. Many of the same local businesses who had participated in the window decorating competition, from clothing stores to hair salons and everything in between, were participating in the parade. Unions had people walking, as did educational facilities. There were also a number of church groups in attendance, the most surprising of which (for me) were the Mormons Building Bridges. According to the Lethbridge chapter’s Facebook page, this was the first time that a Mormons Building Bridges banner has been featured in a pride parade outside of the United States.
While personal opinions on the “sinful” nature of homosexuality vary when you talk directly with Mormons, the Church’s opinion is quite clear. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman, period. Although they preach a very straight forward “love the sinner, hate the sin” doctrine (my choice of words, not theirs), many of their policies are painfully cruel, especially to the children of gay couples.
With these hostile and exclusive policies in mind, many LGBTQ+ find themselves directly at odds with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Hence the shock at seeing the Mormons Building Bridges group at the Lethbridge Pride Parade.
I have no desire to cause any sort of religious strife for members of the group, who are still very much a part of the Mormon church and could risk serious consequences within their community if they spoke out against its policies. I therefore chose to only speak briefly, off record, and to record nothing but my own personal thoughts in the matter. My personal impression was that the group did not necessarily believe that homosexuality was a sin. However, regardless of their official stance, MBB had a warm reception at the Lethbridge Pride Parade. As quoted from their public Facebook page, Jen Alston said: “This LGBTQ+ community is a great example in the love and acceptance department. We could learn a lot from them.”
The posters which the Mormons carried in their parade walk reflected the overall tone of the day. They carried messages of love and acceptance, and were carried by people with bright smiles and excited attitudes. This was the overwhelming feeling that I carried with me at the end of my time in Galt Gardens, that day: that the Lethbridge queer community truly loved each other, and that we would hold each other up in times of peace and in times of crisis.
The party continued after the parade, when attendees flocked to a pavilion within Galt Gardens. The event was hosted by two members of the Lethbridge Pride Fest team, and featured speeches from members of the municipal and federal government – like the mayor, who wore a delightfully gaudy shirt and seemed genuinely enthused to be there.
There were then performances from a variety of acts, including two drag queens and a self-taught hip-hop dance team. The atmosphere was electric! Food trucks, political booths, and vendors lined the performance area, bringing that much more activity and excitement to the afternoon. The sun came out as time went on, and the entire team did exceptionally well at their jobs, despite microphone issues.
I have very few complaints about my first pride in Lethbridge. There were a few minor issues, and a couple of things that rubbed me the wrong way. Like, why were there only heterosexual pairings in the dances that were performed? I wanted more gays!
That being said, I had a total blast. The Pride festivities in Lethbridge actually extended throughout the entire month of June, and featured things like LGBTQ+ movies, dances, and martini nights. Although my intense introversion prevented me from going to as many events as I would have liked, it was very reassuring to see that much activity and joy being brought to my community. I am really looking forward to next year’s festivities!
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