There is no singular definition of what it means to be queer. It is about having the strength to showcase your sexuality and who you are. It is a person’s identity.
Edmonton has a huge LGBTQ population that is estimated to be in the tens of thousands. Unlike other major metropolises such as Vancouver or Toronto, we do not have a central village for members of the LGBTQ community to gather and connect. These thousands of people are scattered in the many neighborhoods and suburbs that make up this diverse city. Pride Week is a major event for members of the LGBTQ community to unite and celebrate their identity. It is a passionate and invigorating parade that kicks off a week of festivities that symbolize the freedom to be of who you are as an individual. The theme of this year’s festival is “Stand PROUD!” and there is a vast array of entertainment including poetry readings, art shows, fashion events, sports games, pageants, and family-friendly activities to take part in.
Two of the people attending the Pride Festival are university students Hilary and Kyra. They will be married August 1st of this year. They are empowered individuals, confident of who they are and of their relationship. For them, Pride Week is the only time they do not feel ostracized, a time where they have freedom of expression. This parade is a time when they can walk around all day holding hands, free from the worry about perception or opinion. Pride Week is about embracing their identity.
“People are forced to hide a piece of them—to hide their sexuality, and their feelings for their loved ones. We don’t really get to show that. So on a day where you have this chance and you get to be in a parade, you act however you want because there are no restrictions for that moment,” Hilary advocates.
What has made Pride Week able to succeed in its 33rd year is the open atmosphere and backdrop of support around the city. Each year it garners more support, and more businesses that willingly hang rainbow flags from their front windows and supportive observers. Pride has proven to be a significant tool for promoting and influencing change in the gay rights landscape.
“Anywhere else where you find this many people drinking and partying, a fight will usually be the result. But Pride is different. I don’t think you will ever find genuinely happier people,” Kyra explains about the infectious atmosphere.
Pride Week is a symbol of inspiration and equality. There is an expansive culture and immense amount of support for this community. The visual climate of Edmonton is not representative of the vast community, but although it may not be the most visual community, it is a very inclusive one with great solidarity.
On her first Pride parade Kyra remembers, “My dad actually took me. I had just come out and I didn’t really know anyone. So he took the day off work and we went there together. I had hoped to get a look inside the community.”
Many heterosexual people do not realize what Pride Week is really about. In 2009, Vancouver-born director Bob Christie went to Poland, Sri Lanka, Hungary, and Russia. In these countries, being gay earns you a death sentence. In his documentary, entitled Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride, Christie demonstrates that Pride Week is more than just a parade; it is a visual fight against discrimination and homophobia.
“That’s what Pride is really about. It’s not about people wearing their underwear on their heads. It’s about showing who you are and how far you’ve come,” Kyra explains.
This holds true for the happy couple. Through their experiences they have learned what it means to be gay and the importance of the community here in Edmonton.
“I never really felt like I fit in the straight community, and then once I got to the gay community I felt really excited. But, I wanted to be a part of it so bad that I felt like I was trying too hard to be in it. I actually googled what a lesbian wore. I had my tongue pierced. But I learned you don’t have to try. You are who you are,” Hilary states.
Kyra admits, “When I came out I had no idea that there was a gay community here. There are people out there that should know there actually is a huge gay community in Edmonton even though you have to search to find it, and understand that there is no right or wrong way to be gay. Once people know the truth you have no faults, you are free. Your gender stereotypes go out the window. You can be whomever you want. There is no stereotype holding you back.”
“Being gay is being free. Very free,” Hilary expands. “I actually love it. Maybe life would be easier in some instances, but even if I had the choice I would never change it.”
For a summarized history of the Pride Festival and a list of events for Pride Week go to www.edmontonpride.ca
Image CC neilward on Flickr