Chris Plett says he has personally witnessed opinions and attitudes towards LGBTQ people and issues evolve in his home community since the first Pride parade in Steinbach was held in 2016.
“Things wouldn’t be changing in the community if it were not for those events, and those conversations we have started,” Plett, the chairperson for the Steinbach Pride Committee said on Friday, as he and others prepare to host the 2022 Steinbach Pride event this Sunday in the southeastern Manitoba city that is home to about 17,000 people.
“And things wouldn’t be changing if it wasn’t for the stories we tell to our allies, but also tell to people that maybe don’t agree, or don’t accept or understand.”
Steinbach Pride held its first event in Steinbach in 2016, and that event made national headlines that year because of differing opinions about holding a Pride event in an area often referred to as this province’s Bible belt.
When the 2016 Pride parade was first announced it also made headlines because of who didn’t show up, as Steinbach MLA Kelvin Goertzen, Provencher MP Ted Falk, and then-Steinbach Mayor Chris Goertzen all did not attend.
Plett said they will hold a more “scaled back” event on Sunday than in past years, and after being forced to cancel the last two years due to the pandemic, but have found a way to make this year’s event not only about marching but also about people sharing stories and having conversations.
“It’s good to have the parade, but it’s also good to have conversations and listen to people’s stories,” he said.
According to Plett, there will be speakers who will appear on stage during the event and tell stories and answer questions about their own experiences.
“In the past we have had people come up and do speeches, and we wanted to do a little more of that,” he said.
Plett said those conversations are important to show support to those in the LGBTQ community, but also to help young people who might be struggling with questions about their own sexuality, and about talking about it with their own family, friends or peers.
“It can let them know they are not alone, but it also gives them an opportunity to talk to people who will accept and understand what they are going through, if maybe they can’t have those kinds of supportive conversations in their own homes.
“With these types of stories people can relate, and they often say ‘hey, that’s what I’m going through.’”
The Steinbach-based Hanover School Division (HSD) has also had its share of headlines when it comes to its dealings with LGBTQ students and their families over the last few years. In May 2016, Steinbach mom Michelle McHale attempted to bring changes to the HSD curriculum after her 12-year-old son was bullied for having two moms, but trustees voted against those changes.
And in 2013, when former Steinbach student Evan Wiens worked to start a gay-straight alliance at Steinbach’s public high school, he was told he could create the group, but the division originally would not allow him to promote the group publicly through posters or any images in the school or on school grounds.
According to Plett, holding Pride events in Steinbach has allowed some young people to feel more comfortable with themselves, and more accepted by others and they hope to continue to see attitudes change and evolve in Steinbach.
“I have received feedback and seen personally that the young people in the community feel freer to be their true selves,” Plett said.
This year’s Steinbach Pride event will begin on Sunday at 1 p.m. at K.R Barkman Park in Steinbach, and those who take part will walk along Main Street and return to the park where speakers will address the crowd.
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun