By: Anastasia Chipelski
It’s kind of like a really glittery Christmas, but with less guilt and religious/secular tensions, and a much better colour scheme.
We’ve had a lucky string of absolutely fabulous weather for Pride in Winnipeg, and as one of the first major outdoor festivals, it’s a great place to pick up that first summer sunburn.
For some, it’s a day to celebrate, to be open and proud and take a break from being constantly immersed in straight culture. It can also be an emotionally and politically charged day, because the simple notion of identifying as some part of the rainbow spectrum doesn’t necessarily mean we all share the same values in other aspects of our lives. Luckily, though it’s not an official holiday, it’s not trademarked either, so there’s a good chance of finding a smaller community event to celebrate – or organize – with like-minded folks.
This year was the first time I attended Pride since I started coming out as Bi to more than my closest friends, and it was a breath of fresh air. Beyond feeling a sense of acceptance, I truly felt a sense of celebration. Here’s a run-down of some of my favourite aspects of this year’s Pride festival.
1-It’s more than a whole week!
The Pride Festival (put on by Winnipeg Pride) technically starts on May 23rd with the raising of the rainbow flag at City Hall. The weekend before Pride is a great primer, an opportunity to prepare for a weekend full of colliding with old and new friends, and a chance to feel the wonderfully queer energy building up in the city. There’s nothing quite like a warm summer night on the patios, swapping tips on the best places to be and things to see for the upcoming Pride Week.
Winnipeg was also lucky to host the Writing Trans Genres conference the week before Pride, which featured the Unbecoming Cabaret on Friday night. This celebration of trans* literature, performance, and culture set the stage not only for Pride, but for future trans*-centred community gatherings and events.
2-There are so many dance parties
The organizers of queer dance parties often try really hard to make a safe space for people to shake it out and celebrate without getting harassed, which is refreshing for those who love to dance, but tire of the grief that often comes with dancing and bar culture in general. For meeting new friends and busting out the summer fashions, they’re like a night-time queer culture pop-up shop.
The official Pride dance party came with a $30 ticket, so I opted to take in some of the smaller (under $10 ticket) events. Bow Down III, a Beyonce themed dance party, shook up the Regal Beagle on Friday and well into Saturday. While dancing on carpet is always somewhat awkward, it didn’t faze this crowd at all. The Beagle was packed with joyous, sweaty, grinning dancers, many of whom knew most (okay, all) of the words.
Colour Me Queer – a dance party for Queer People of Colour and their allies – sold out the Windsor on Saturday night, and then the legendary blues bar played host to the 6th Annual Big Fat Queer Pride Party on Sunday night, which I’m sorry to say, I didn’t end up using my ticket for. There are so many dance parties, but there’s only so much that one person can do in a weekend.
3-Dyke March and grassroots community events
I can only pay lip service to many of the other community events, but this was Winnipeg’s 5th year holding a Dyke march. For the last four years, this march has been single-handedly organized by one individual, and this year she invited others to pitch in (including yours truly).
Dyke marches exist to promote lesbian (and broader women-loving-women) visibility, especially around Pride. In Winnipeg, the march is created to be extremely open and accepting, explicitly inviting “dykes, lesbians, queers, women, and allies”. I was especially impressed by how the organizing committee took great care to ensure that the event was accessible and inviting to all, and how many resources were offered, volunteered, and shared. A call was put out for Zine submissions, with hopes that sales could help support future marches, but the budget for this event started with was zero dollars – it was created entirely through love and commitment.
An hour long mini-festival was created in the park behind River Osborne Community Centre before the march, with refreshments (a fundraiser for Gios Cares), face painting, bike and wheeled-thing decorating, and sign-making. Rainbow Trout Music Festival’s bicycle mounted, self-powered boom box provided the soundtrack for the march. As the crowd gleefully wound its way through Osborne village to Mostyn Park, the reaction from onlookers was overwhelmingly positive.
Even before the seemingly penultimate Pride Sunday, the Dyke march truly embodied the spirit of community organizing and celebration that I hope to feel through all Pride events.
4-The big Pride Parade
Parades are the ultimate free, local spectacle, and the Pride Parade always sets the bar high. I had to miss the parade this year as I was working at the Forks for the first part of the day, but heard many reports that it was just as amazing, if not better, than past years. Those who had floats were happy (but tired), as were the marchers.
I’ve spent a few years watching the parade, and last year I drove a float, which was a unique people-watching vantage point. Although I was mostly invisible to the crowds, I had the privilege of watching faces drift from one float to the next, and light up as they saw us. Aside from my main task of driving (which was actually mostly braking, then braking a little less), I had the best people-watching seat in the house, and got to see how beautiful and diverse a group assembles to celebrate Winnipeg Pride.
5-The Pride Festival at the Forks
I am a huge fan of free outdoor events, especially those that include music. This year, the festival at the Forks went on for two days, with vendors and entertainment on both. As the biggest event of the festival – organizers anticipated drawing over 35,000 revelers – there is, ideally, something for everyone.
In their attempts to cut a wide swath and maintain a “family friendly” environment, some of those sticky tensions around values are bound to rise to the surface. Sex-positive organizations’ abilities to display their wares were curtailed by the guidelines put forth by the Pride Festival. While some complied, others did not (which could be alternately delightful and frustrating, depending which patch of grass you were set up on).
While some folks were happy to fill their bags with whatever free shwag was provided (rainbow bracelets, chips, frisbees, tshirts, the list goes on), many eyes have been rolled at the rainbow-washing of some organizations. Many corporate sponsors seemed to hold barely tenuous ties to LGBTTQ* issues in other areas of their work, but were happy to set their eyes on Pride-goers future financial support.
For those simply looking to enjoy the day, there is ample space on the rare prairie hills to take in the sights, and the beer garden was apparently much easier to get into than in past years. The drink of choice is Half Pints’ annual offering of Queer Beer, with a lighter flavor perfect for hot summer festivals (while it lasts).
One caveat: A day is only 24 hours and you can only be in one place at once
This would be one drawback, but also a major strength of Pride. There is more than enough to do, you won’t be able to do it all (or likely even half of what you planned). But you will hear great stories from the events you missed, and will have more than enough water cooler talk to last the rest of the next week.
Do yourself a favour – plan for Pride, dress yourself up or down as you please, bring sunscreen, and if you can, plan to take the Monday off to recover. If you’ve never been to a Pride, it’s a wonderful opportunity to bust open all the stereotypes and narrow prescriptions of the LGBTTQ* community. To everyone I was able to see (and everyone I inevitably missed, or haven’t met yet), Happy Pride, and we’ll see you next year!