This weekend was the beginning of our pride celebrations in Edmonton. Everyone was looking forward to the Pride Parade on Saturday, but upon its arrival, some unexpected events took place.
Let’s start on Friday, where the city slowly filled with anticipation as friends from out of town arrived and everyone was looking forward to getting off work for the celebrations of the Pride Festival. That evening the city was filled with various “Pride Kick-Off Parties”, encouraging people from all over to start their pride event off with a bang. A very family friendly atmosphere.
Being a bartender at one of the clubs hosting pride events, I got to see many of the parties that took place. The music and the energy of the crowd kept the bar busy all night long, but eventually, people filtered off to rest up for the main events of the weekend.
Saturday was parade day – the highlight of the weekend. Everyone on Whyte Avenue was gearing up for what looked like a rainy day, not letting the weather stop them from coming out and enjoying the festival. It’s always fun to see how many people show up to support the unity and diversity of so many different groups represented in the pride parade.
I enjoyed the sense of community from the crowd. I was continually running into people I know and having quick conversations with friends before moving to find a good spot to watch the parade.
Edmonton Pride Society had decided on the theme “Spectrum” for the pride events, and I think the crowd attending the parade was a perfect portrayal of that theme. There were so many people from different backgrounds, ages, and genders, and the fact they were all coming together to celebrate is a wonderful experience.
Upon finding a spot among the throngs of people to watch the parade, everything started off normally. Floats of bright colours were blasting music, accompanied with cheering people cascading the crowd with beads and rainbow flags.
It rained for a short while, but that only paused the parade for a few minutes while drag queens dove for cover so their painted faces wouldn’t melt. After a brief shower, the parade continued as my friends and I were drying off and cheering once again. Suddenly there was another halt to the parade, and confusion broke out in the crowd.
People started wondering what was going on, as this pause didn’t seem like a normal hiccup in the progression of the festivities. One drag queen took the opportunity to keep the crowd excited and started performing to whatever music the float was playing. She was dancing on the back of a Pick-Up truck and lip-syncing to song after song, encouraging the crowd to clap and cheer along.
After about 10 minutes my friends and I started walking up the parade grounds, taking to social media to find out what the cause of this delay was. To our surprise, a protest had broken out! People of the trans community had formed a barricade, blocking the parade from proceeding until their demands were met.
This group spoke out in protest of the involvement and participation of the Edmonton Police Service (EPS), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and the Canadian Armed Forces were involved in the parade. Brandishing signs that read “Police have no Pride” and “Racism is a Queer Issue”, this group demanded that the participation of EPS, RCMP, and military officers be banned from the parade until such a time that all the members of all the communities consent to allowing them back. This was the main requirement of their four demands. The others included more representation of ethnic minorities and trans people on the executive board of the Pride Society, along with a restructuring of their hiring procedures.
According to an article posted by the Edmonton star, the protesters were concerned that having the EPS and RCMP involved creates an unsafe space for some members of the community, specifically those of colour.
These events shook Pride to the core, though it was felt that it was necessary to open the doors for a conversation to begin. These methods were powerful as the Pride Society’s board held an emergency vote and decided to accept the terms and let the parade continue. It had people making connections to the past, where the pride parade had initially started as a protest against police oppression. Once the protesters were satisfied, they cleared the way and let the parade continue and the celebrations recommence.
After the parade, the rest of the city woke up and people flocked to pride grounds to take part in the performances going on. I ended up heading downtown to help my bar set up its annual block party. Having closed off the street, we set up bars, a food station, and music. After setting up, we opened the gates and let the people flood the event.
With over 1000 in attendance, it was an overwhelming atmosphere of happiness and community that continued late into the evening, with drag performances that had the crowd screaming for more. As day turned into the night (and almost back into day again), the celebrating noticeably slowed down and eventually came to an end.
What will this weekend have in store?