Austin Grabish

Making things right

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

Steinbach_pride_sign_DX.jpg
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.”

 

IMG_5516.jpg
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.

 

IMG_5439.jpg
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.

 

IMG_5452.jpg
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.

 

IMG_5553.jpg
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.”

IMG_5449
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.

 

IMG_5610.jpg
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.

IMG_5501.jpg

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.

IMG_5431.jpg

First Pride divides community in Manitoba’s Bible Belt

Homosexual sin ‘disgusts me,’ says one Steinbach local, as others prepare for historic march

Michelle McHale is organizing Steinbach’s first Pride march on July 9, 2016. Many in Steinbach, a staunchly Conservative and predominately Mennonite city, are opposed to homosexuality. (Austin Grabish/Daily Xtra)
 Gay history is expected to be made this weekend in the Bible Belt of Manitoba.

Steinbach, Manitoba’s third largest city, is gearing up for its very first Pride march and the celebration is already rife with controversy.

The march, scheduled to take place Saturday, July 9, 2016, is the result of a long-fought battle in the predominantly Mennonite community.

Organizer Michelle McHale doesn’t think it will become violent but says to expect resistance.

I do expect protesters. I expect that to happen just given some of the things that we’ve heard,” she says.

“It’s all kind of surreal,” she adds of the parade she never thought would come to Steinbach.

The battle to this point

The battle over LGBT rights in Steinbach boiled over this spring after school board trustees bristled first at McHale’s request, then at a student’s request to revise their guidelines prohibiting discussion of LGBT issues until high school.

Steinbach’s newspaper the Carillon reported that trustee Lynn Barkman opposed introducing LGBT issues in middle school because, she believes, students are not equipped to understand the complexities of sexuality.

Teachers, students and parents in the district “know that our culture is changing,” she said according to the Carillon, but “that does not suggest that we should abandon truth.”

Barkman, who is a nurse, then linked the rise of sex education in Toronto to a heightened risk of cancer, the Carillon reported.

“I just feel that there is enough cancer around and the increase in cancer is phenomenal,” she said.

Carillon reporter Ian Froese told Daily Xtra some applauded after Barkman made the comment.

“I thought it was one of the loudest cheers any trustee got,” Froese said in a message.

McHale and her partner, who left Steinbach in May, have now filed a human rights complaint against the Hanover School Division for its ongoing refusal to allow classroom discussions of LGBT issues until high school due to their “sensitive” nature.

(Michelle McHale left Steinbach after facing backlash for her attempt to bring LGBT issues into school curriculum. She says her son was also bullied for having two moms./Austin Grabish/Daily Xtra)

School board confrontation only the latest

In 2003, a federal committee visited Steinbach to talk about legalizing same-sex marriage. Those vehemently opposed to homosexuality came out in droves to voice their opposition to gay marriage.

Their concerns, along with gay marriage proponents’ voices, are documented in over 200 archived pages online.

The road to Pride

Proponents of Steinbach Pride have fought for months and have had to cut through bureaucratic hoops to get here.

After initially refusing to issue a permit for the Pride march, Manitoba RCMP say their commanding officer will now attend the event.

McHale says police have reassured her they’ll keep Saturday’s march safe.

She reiterates Saturday’s event is about love.

“We will not engage in protesters. That’s not what we’re there for.”

‘The politicians not showing is really disappointing’

Steinbach’s local politicians are skipping out on Saturday’s event.

The region’s Conservative MP Ted Falk says he won’t attend due to personal family values — though he initially blamed his upcoming absence on a commitment to attend a Frog Follies festival, before the festival’s organizer publicly urged him to attend Pride instead.

The area’s provincial MLA, Kelvin Goertzen, won’t attend Pride either, and has balked at media queries about his absence.

Steinbach’s mayor won’t be there either.

(steinbachonline.com)

“The politicians not showing is really disappointing to me,” says Evan Wiens, 20.

Wiens brought Steinbach into the spotlight in 2013 when he tried to start a gay-straight alliance in the city’s high school.

He says he knows progress is being slowly made, but was still shocked to learn there’d be a Pride march in Steinbach.

“I didn’t think I would ever hear the words Steinbach Pride, at least this soon,” he says.

‘There are lots of good people there’

Wiens says it’s been touching to see public support for the march and broader LGBT acceptance.

“People always viewed me as the lone gay person in the town,” he says.

He makes a point of saying not everyone in Southeastern Manitoba is homophobic.

“At the end of the day, I don’t like to personally paint Steinbach with an ugly brush, because I know that there are lots of good people there.”

But opposition remains widespread

Those opposed to Saturday’s Pride march, and homosexuality in general, have been vocal about their outrage, often taking to social media to vent their concerns.

 

‘I don’t feel it’s right they push their agenda like that’

Marcy Kornelsen, 59, is one of several locals who’ve expressed outrage about the march on Facebook.

Reached by phone in Steinbach, she told Daily Xtra she would be staying far away from the march. “I’m outraged,” she says.

“I’m a Christian. I believe the Bible and the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin and so that is why I don’t agree with the promotion of it.”

Kornelsen likened gay people to thieves. “Stealing is wrong, and homosexuality is wrong. It’s all on the same page.”

“I don’t feel it’s right that they push their agenda like that.”

Asked if gay people disgust her, she had this to say:

“I don’t know if the people itself disgust me. It’s the whole idea of the homosexual sin that disgusts me.”

“That part I’m just like, ‘really how can anybody even want to do something like that?’”

OA_show('Leaderboard - incontent article/blog');