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How Edmonton Proved You Can’t Cancel Pride

Even without a parade, there’s still plenty of reason to celebrate…
 
By: Courtney Hardwick
 
Earlier this year, Edmonton was gearing up for their annual Pride Festival, scheduled for June 7 to 17, when the Edmonton Pride Festival Society announced that due to the “political and social environment” in the city, the festival was being cancelled. That included the parade and a number of events organized to celebrate the city’s vibrant LGBTQ+ community.
 
Luckily, the Edmonton LGBTQ+ community is made up of much more than a single non-profit. In the wake of the cancellation, a number of organizations stepped up to make sure that, although there would be no official festival, there would still be plenty of ways to recognize and celebrate pride.
 
At the heart of the revived festival was Evolution Wonderlounge, Edmonton’s only year-round queer venue. The club was open for all 10 days of the festival, hosting guest DJs and celebrity drag entertainers every night. They even held an all-ages drag event to give queer parents the chance to bring their kids to the show and queer kids the chance to celebrate who they are and be part of the festivities.
 
Rob Browatzke, part of the owner-management team at Evolution Wonderlounge, also helped organize a street festival and beer garden outside the club. The event included an all-ages family area and helped raise $12,000 in a single afternoon for participating non-profits.
 
Local non-profits – including the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Wild Rose, Fellowship of Alberta Bears and Edmonton Men’s Health Collective – were key in both promoting events and organizing their own. Edmonton may only have one year-round queer venue, but there are many more venues that are home to drag events and pop-up queer events. Despite the festival’s “cancellation,” more than 70 events happened in the span of 10 days, from a seniors tea to youth-focused drag events to a Pride run and many more.
 
If you ask Browatzke, Edmonton Pride 2019 was still a massive success – maybe not in the same way as previous years, but in the ways that matter. “All through was the reminder that Pride is in fact a protest, that there are many members of our community who still face significant barriers, that conversations still absolutely need to happen in how we relate to each other across racial or generational lines,” he said. “Perhaps the success of the year isn’t in the number of people out for events, or even in the number of events, but in the number of people now having dialogue on how to make Pride more inclusive.”
 
In the announcement of the festival’s cancellation, the Edmonton Pride Festival Society said hosting a safe event is a top priority and they didn’t feel that would be possible given current events, but did not elaborate. Obviously issues surrounding the Edmonton police force were part of the overall concern and that’s an issue other cities such as Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto are dealing with as well.
 
Edmontonians’ ability to overcome the cancellation of the festival and come together to create something even more special for their LGBTQ+ community is a testament to how important Pride really is to people. It will continue to evolve and be a reason to celebrate, no matter what tries to stand in the way—and that’s because of the people who are willing to fight for it.
 
“There’s a lot of hurt and anger right now, here and all over the world, and we can just hope that leads to healing and closure,” says Browatzke. “And in the meantime, we will be here to entertain and let people dance.”
 

 
COURTNEY HARDWICK is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Her work has appeared online at AmongMen, Complex Canada, Elle Canada and TheBolde.
 

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