Edmonton PrideFest returns to Churchill Square after 8 years: ‘Love always wins’

A sea of colour filled Churchill Square on Saturday, where Pride festivities returned after an eight-year absence from that downtown Edmonton space.

It’s also been four years since any large Pride event in the city, after the city’s previous Pride society disbanded in 2019 and then the COVID-19 pandemic happened.

“When they lifted the restrictions on events, a group of people came together and said, ‘Hey, we have two months — let’s plan a massive festival!’” Edmonton PrideFest executive producer Trevor Watson said with a laugh, noting this may be some people’s first time.

“So many people there have never been to a Pride (event) before, so we’re so excited to deliver this event for them,” Watson said.

Read more: Edmonton Pride Festival returns to Churchill Square under new organization

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People of all ages and backgrounds flocked to downtown Edmonton for the free, public, family-friendly event with entertainment.

“It feels nice that there are all these people that are supportive and are part of the community,” said 10-year-old Darien Santamaria, who identifies as non-binary.

Darien Santamaria at PrideFest in Churchill Square in Edmonton, Alta. on Saturday, June 25, 2022. Global News

“It’s so important to have these safe spaces because QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous People of Color) members and LGBT members, we are still fighting for basic human rights. We have come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go,” Watson said.

Watson said Edmonton is a very welcoming community and it means the world to members of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community.

“It really means life or death for so many people in our community.”

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The goal of 2022 Edmonton PrideFest was to be even bigger and more inclusive than ever before, highlighting minority performers within the queer umbrella — especially those who are QTBIPOC.

FULL COVERAGE: Inside Pride

Many at Saturday’s events said there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to the QTBIPOC communities.

“I think it’s the mainstream LGBT’s responsibility to utilize their privilege in order to uplift those voices,” said Cedar T, an Indigenous model & two-spirit performer from Saddle Lake Cree Nation that goes by Boyd Whiskeyjack when not in drag.

She sits on the board of Capital Pride Edmonton —  a 2SLGBTQ+ organization that celebrates equity, diversity and holds space for the Two-Spirit, QTBIPOC community.

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Cedar T said as much as Pride is a celebration, it’s also a learning opportunity.

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“I think it’s important to do the research, to not ask the QTBIPOC community how they can help by taking anti-oppressive training, cultural sensitivity training and really just educate themselves on the issues that are faced by the marginalized groups.”

People at PrideFest in Churchill Square in Edmonton, Alta. on Saturday, June 25, 2022. Global News

Kirsten Threefingers came to the festival with their sister and said it was amazing to see so many other members of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community, especially those of Indigenous background like themself.

“I just feel so comfortable today,” they said. “It absolutely helps me connect more with being two-spirited.”

Two-Spirit is a modern umbrella term used by Indigenous peoples in North America to describe a person with both masculine and feminine spirits.

Read more: Being Two-Spirit and trans in Canada: How colonization shaped the way we view gender diversity

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It’s a relatively new term for a historic concept in Indigenous communities and acknowledges the fluidity and spectrum of gender identity and expression.

Two-Spirit people have existed for centuries prior to European contact, but colonization led many Indigenous people to think negatively about queer and gender-diverse people in their communities.

Threefingers said seeing other two-spirited people at the Edmonton event made them very proud.

“Love always wins,” they said.

Read more: Inside Pride: Two-spirited Indigenous girls inspire others to be themselves

Attending the festival is a step allies can take to bridge the gap between groups, said attendee Jason Johnson. He said being gay is a big part of his identity and he has missed not having a public Pride event.

“People need to feel like they have a place where they can be themselves. People need to feel heard, like their voices matter — because they do, right?”

This is the 40th year of Pride events in Edmonton, Watson said, adding the first event began as a protest.

“It was a small group of very, very courageous people that led a protest down the street, and that over 40 years has developed into one of Edmonton’s largest, most exciting festivals,” he said.

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People at PrideFest in Churchill Square in Edmonton, Alta. on Saturday, June 25, 2022. Global News

“That’s basically why we’re here — to remind people the history of Pride, that it started as a protest,” Cedar T agreed.

“I also think people have their full right to celebrate because we’ve come a long way, but there’s still so much more work to do.”

Read more: Not ‘rigidly defined’: Bisexual people still fight to overcome stereotypes, stigma

In 2019, the Edmonton Pride Festival Society cancelled the event, citing a lack of funding and volunteers as well as a belief the organization was “not fulfilling our mission this year, which is to unify our community.”

The year before, the parade was halted for more than half an hour by demonstrators demanding organizers uninvite Edmonton police officers, the RCMP and military personnel from the event, amid a country-wide debate over the presence of police in Pride parades.

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While a parade was not part of Saturday’s celebrations, Watson hinted it could happen next year.

In the month of June, Global News is exploring deeper issues related to the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community in our series, Inside Pride, which looks at the importance of the acronym and the labels it represents.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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