Thousands flock to support love in Manitoba’s Bible Belt at inaugural Pride

Jennifer Schroeder, 24, is from Steinbach and said she went against her family’s beliefs by attending the city’s first Pride. Austin Grabish / Daily Xtra

You might say it was worth the trip.

By Austin Grabish, Daily Xtra

STEINBACH, Man. – They got their march, and there were no protesters.

“Love always wins,” said Michelle McHale, the driving force behind Steinbach’s first Pride March.

“I never in a million years dreamed that I would see this before me,” McHale said.

“We kind of thought that if we got all our friends together, family members maybe we’d have 200 people.”


Steinbach Pride organzier Michelle McHale and her partner Karen Phillips lead Steinbach’s first Pride march.

There was no official tally of those in attendance, but an RCMP spokesman estimated as many as 3,000 came out to today’s march and rally.

There were so many people out in support of Steinbach’s first Pride, the march and a rally that followed at city hall were delayed twice.

“Apparently, our roads are not designed for love,” one man shouted.


Many supporters showed up with signs.


McHale told a packed children’s park, where the march started, traffic was bumper to bumper backed up all the way to Ste. Anne Man., located some 15 minutes outside the city.

Numbers aside, history was made today in this rural Manitoba city.

Many in Steinbach, a staunchly Conservative community, have fought for months against today’s march. Some threatened to protest.


Supporters of Steinbach Pride came out in droves.


But there were no protesters seen on city streets here today.

Instead, a sea of rainbow colours and signs denouncing homophobic comments made by some community members brushed over this normally quiet city.


Months of controversy surrounded today’s march.


Some criticized the noticeable absence of local politicians like Conservative MP Ted Falk, who said attending Pride would go against his beliefs. Others held signs saying, “God loves gays” and “cancer is not caused by homosexuality.”

Some held signs denouncing the decision by local politicians like Conservative MP Ted Falk to skip Steinbach’s first Pride. 


Lynn Barkman, a local school trustee, had suggested cancer was caused by homosexuality in June when explaining her reason for opposing LGBT talk in middle school.

Many said today marked a new day for local queer people.

“I’m going to say something that I never thought I’d say in a million years: Happy Steinbach Pride everyone,” said Chris Plett, a local Mennonite.

“A new Steinbach is being born in this moment and freedom for the LGBTTQ community is on its way,” McHale said.


Saint Boniface—Saint Vital MP Dan Vandal read a speech on behalf of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and left a signed copy with Pride organizers.

“We must continue to support those who have experienced discrimination and remember that we cannot let up on the fight against bigotry,” Vandal said on behalf of Trudeau.

Jennifer Schroeder, 24, is from Steinbach and held a pink sign that said “Jesus had two dads and turned out fine.”

Schroeder said she knew holding the sign went against her family’s beliefs.

“We need to break the lines,” “You know there’s tension here in the community, and we need change to happen.”

Mason Godwaldt, 18, was instrumental in organizing Saturday’s march.

The trans man came out last June and said although there’s lots of positive change happening in Steinbach many are still scared to admit they are part of the LGBT community.

“That’s because there are still so many people that don’t agree with it. So instead of being shunned by family and friends they hide who they are. They put on a mask and deny them true selves. I know this because I lived that life,” Godwaldt said.


Michelle McHale gets ready to speak on the steps of Steinbach City Hall, which refused to support its community’s first Pride.


Most of the supporters at Pride that spoke with Daily Xtra were from Winnipeg, but McHale said there were plenty from Steinbach.

She said she was surprised there were no protesters since some had threatened to take to the streets.

Still, McHale said she expects local queer people will be shunned in the future, but she left those people with a strong message.

“We will not be silent any longer.”

“Love is love is love,” shouted a woman in the crowd after McHale made the comment.


McHale said her message to local LGBT people living in the area to find their allies.

“Allies want to help, but they don’t always know to do,” she said.

Steinbach Mayor Chris Goertzen was also absent from Saturday’s Pride. He didn’t return requests for comment.

McHale said there will be a Pride celebration again next year.


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Wab Kinew has apologized, but is that enough?

The so-called ‘star’ candidate who is running for the NDP in Fort Rouge was finally starting to feel the heat yesterday, as the Liberals called for his resignation over past tweets he made that the party deemed offensive.

The tweets, which made fun of gays, lesbians, First Nations children and fat women, came to light last Monday, a day after the 34-year-old faced criticism and re-apologized for past misogynistic and homophobic song lyrics he wrote as a rapper.

But the criticism for Kinew wasn’t a problem – people seemed to believe Kinew’s apology and the media did not scrutinize him for his tweets.

Yet just a week prior, the NDP called on Jamie Hall, a Liberal candidate, to resign over social media posts he made that referred to women as whores and skanks.

Hall, unlike Kinew, was rightfully scrutinized in the media and then stepped down.

Some argued an apology Kinew made years prior for his lyrics was good enough, but it’s hard to use that apology as justification for ignoring his tweets.

The tweets, which were dug up by Winnipeg political consultant David Shorr, who is the former director of communications for the Liberal Party, are disturbing.

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Kinew tweeted “Riding in my limo back to my king sized sweet feeling really bad for those kids in Attawapiskat #haha #terrible #inative.”

The Ontario First Nation is plagued by poverty and other social issues and was dealing with a housing crisis at the time of Kinew’s tweet.

In a reply to a 2009 tweet about H1N1, Kinew asked: “Is it true you can get it from kissing fat chicks?”

In another tweet, Kinew said he was going to wrestling class “Because jiu-jitsu wasn’t gay enough” and “My bro is convinced that ‘Do you like the 90s?’ is a gay pick up line.”

Kinew also tweeted about running over a cat and posted a photo of an aboriginal person sleeping on the ground.

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But perhaps even more troubling is that these tweets were made when Kinew was employed as a broadcaster at the CBC and associate vice-president of indigenous affairs at the University of Winnipeg.

On Friday, Kinew told a wall of media he’s been an ‘open book,’ transparent, and accountable.

He said the tweets were made when he was an angry young man suffering from self-hatred and arrogance.

But some of that arrogance seemed to continue as he snapped at reporters, who pressed him while he stood next to Premier Greg Selinger.

At one point, Selinger had to tell Kinew to keep his cool.

And on Friday evening, a quick glance at Kinew’s Instagram account revealed more questionable posts for a politician to have.

So, is Kinew really sorry?

Or is it that the 34-year-old still needs an attitude change?

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Death threats sent to gay University Of Winnipeg student in hate mail blitz

Hazim Ismail, 27, is an international student at the University of Winnipeg. He’s received hate mail from Malaysians after being outed as gay to his family.
Hazim Ismail, 27, is an international student at the University of Winnipeg. He’s received hate mail from Malaysians after being outed as gay to his family.


Hazim Ismail just wants the messages to stop.

The gay international student studying at the University of Winnipeg has been inundated with hundreds of messages decrying him for being gay, with death threats topping the list.

The hate mail started a couple of weeks ago after Malaysian media outlets picked up on the 27-year-old’s fight to stay in Canada after he was outed as gay.

Ismail’s family was paying for his tuition and living costs, but cut him off completely after seeing a photo of him taken at a local gay bar.

After local media in the city reported the story, Malaysian outlets got a hold of the story, and that’s when the hate mail started pouring in.

“It went viral and I was really alarmed,” Ismail said, adding some of the mail even came from his own mother via email., a Malaysian social news company, asked people to vote if they thought Hazim would become an LGBT spokesperson, be ostracized, or be given ‘a second chance.’

On the poll one comment read, “Here’s my vote, Hazim go and die,” Ismail said, adding another read, “Repent you ignorant prick.”

The story had over 15,000 shares Thursday morning.

Hazim Ismail.

Ismail said he also received a message from a Malaysian, who offered to pay for his flight home if agreed to convert back to Islam.

But he’s also received messages of support from closeted gay men in Malaysia who were touched by his story.

“I love the positive messages because they fill me with hope like maybe one day Malaysia will change,” he said.

He said because his face is all over the Internet, he’s now more scared to return home than he was in December when he was fundraising for tuition so he could stay in Canada.

Sodomy is a criminal offence in the country that’s punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

“I wouldn’t even want to be in Singapore, the next country over,” he said.

Ismail is seeking refugee status and has a human rights lawyer working on his case. He’s expected to appear before the Refugee Board sometime in April.

Note: Malaysian media may not copy my words about Hazim here. If you do, you’ll forever be held in my utter contempt, which you wouldn’t want.

Gay U of W student had good reason to fear deportation

Canada needs to do more for LGBT people seeking refuge 

University of Winnipeg student Hazim Ismail, 27, had feared deportation to Malaysia until this afternoon when a GoFundMe page he made peaked. He says his family cut his funding off after he was outed as gay.

At first glance he doesn’t seem scared, but it doesn’t take long before the fear in this man’s voice begins to set in.

The paradise this 27-year-old’s been living in might soon end, and it’s all because he’s been outed as gay.

Hazim Ismail knows he is facing the very real reality of being deported home.

It’s why he started a GoFundMe page after being outed to his family back home in Malaysia.

Ismail knows the potential punishment if he’s convicted: 20 years in prison, because he’s gay.

Despite this, when I meet with Ismail for the first time a few weeks ago, he tries to be cheerful.

He tells me he’s been touched by support from the community, and has enjoyed getting involved with on-campus activism at the University of Winnipeg.

He also tells me he never would’ve been able to leave Malaysia if his family knew the real reason he was coming to Canada.

He adds he doesn’t think Canada would have been much help either, and he’s probably right.

A study released in September by a research team with Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights found LGBT asylum seekers faced ‘serious obstacles’ when trying to immigrate to the country.

Perhaps it’s why Canada has remained at the bottom of the United Nations’ list of top countries most likely to take in refugees. It’s the same list it used to nearly champion.

For Ismail, he caught a sigh of relief this afternoon.

“I am crying right now. Don’t worry. They are tears of joy,” he wrote.

“Today, my GoFundMe campaign reached its goal. Whether you like it or not, I’ll be staying here and am only going to become more rebellious with my activism on Treaty One Territory.”

Now let’s hope when the winter term ends, another GoFundMe isn’t needed.


Queer pride, heartache, showcased at film fest

Queer pride, heartache, showcased at film fest

Thirty years of pride have been reeled in, and are being showcased through film this week.

The second night of the Reel Pride Film Festival featured a short film competition and kicked off with a bang last night. The festival continues into the weekend.

More than 30 queer-related films are being shown this year, and judging from the dozen plus shorts I saw last night, I don’t think the rest of the festival will disappoint.

Here’s three of my favourites from yesterday. The first video won an audience choice award.