Unfazed by COVID, Kelowna Pride Festival celebrates 25th anniversary

·2 min read
People celebrate at the Pride parade in Kelowna, B.C., in 2015.  (Clinton Myers/Facebook - image credit)
People celebrate at the Pride parade in Kelowna, B.C., in 2015. (Clinton Myers/Facebook - image credit)

The Kelowna Pride Festival, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, is back this week.

But the festival's parade won't be happening due to a regional restriction on outdoor events that caps attendance at 5,000 people, all of whom must show proof of full vaccination.

The event organizer, Kelowna Pride Society, says about 6,000 people attended the last Pride parade, in June 2019. This year's festival runs through Sunday.

Unlike other Pride events in B.C., the Kelowna Pride Festival — composed of small-scale in-person events — was held last September despite the pandemic, but its parade didn't happen due to provincial public health restrictions.

The society's general manager, Dustyn Baulkham, says he's glad to see the Okanagan Pride event passing another milestone since it began in 1996, but he says hurdles remain for LGBT inclusion in the region.

"In Kelowna, we don't have a lot of resources for the LGBT community," Baulkham said Monday to Chris Walker on CBC's Daybreak South.

"We have obviously a bar that is LGBT-focused, and we have an Etcetera [LGBT] youth group, but outside of that, there's nothing else really consistent and regular going on right now — pre-pandemic, there were at least two to three events a month that were happening."

One of the biggest challenges to the local LGBT community, Baulkham says, is that the City of Kelowna hasn't banned conversion therapy like Vancouver did in June 2018.

Conversion therapy is a widely discredited practice of attempting to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity through counselling, behaviour modification and even medication.

"There [are] constantly things and situations that arise where the LGBT community needs to stand up," Baulkham said.

Kelowna Pride Society says people joining the festival's indoor events will have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and present a vaccine passport and photo ID.

The society will livestream its trans and non-binary storytelling event and Pride cabaret, for people who don't feel comfortable with attending an indoor gathering.

"We want to create a space where everyone can meet," Baulkham said.

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