Under the shadows of discriminatory legislation, homophobia and threats of violence the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer) community shook off a long history of oppression and empowered themselves through a weekend of Pride events in Lethbridge.
The pride fest began June 12 with a flag raising ceremony at City Hall. The city went over and above expectations, keeping the rainbow flag flying high for the entire weekend. Although this event was the least attended, it had the most significance for the LGBTQ community. The flag raising signified the presence of the often ostracized community. It was a proud moment for the gay community as they announced their presence in a small city notorious for using religious dogma to oppress them.
Raising the flag signified the diversity of Lethbridge and encouraged tolerance within Lethbridge. According to Mickey Wilson, president of Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA), by being an open and public presence in Lethbridge, the Lethbridge community could see members of the LGBTQ community are not scary or pedophiles but ordinary people. They are co-workers, neighbours, parents, children, hairdressers… They are just like those within in the straight community.
The gay pride events provided validation within the community that they have a valuable part to play in Lethbridge. In the past, the community did not believe they were valued, could not talk about who they were and felt they had to hide who they were. The pride celebration allowed the community to embrace who they are, reinforcing the notion that they could be authentic and live with integrity. Rather than being respected in spite of who they are, they can be appreciated and loved for who they are. They no longer needed to hide from both internal and external homophobia but rather can assert a positive message, embracing their unique identity.
Throughout the events at Galt Gardens on June 14, that message was prevalent. On stage, individuals wearing rainbow afros sat in salon chairs. Those around them tore off the rainbow wigs, stripping them of the stigma. Employees of Catwalk, a local salon owned by two members of the LGBTQ community provide a symbolic makeover. Their new identity embraced the individual style of the models and they emerge as unique individuals, unapologetic of who they are.
Later a soul train formed as members of the LGBTQ community danced and strutted, encouraged by those surrounding them. They celebrated, recognizing and appreciating the diversity of each individual.
The program also included belly dancers from Ammena Dance Studio. Lise-Anne Talhami, owner of Ammena, believes in the celebration of the human body, regardless of body type. Each body should be celebrated and recognized for its unique beauty. The dancers shimmied and spun, using fabric to enhance their beautiful dances.
The highlight was definitely those performers dressed in drag. The performances by Jordan and Fendi were light and humorous. They engaged the crowd as they pranced on the stage in their large high heels, short dresses and revealing tops. The songs seemed secondary as the performances of the drag queens seemed to captivate the crowd. My eyes were riveted to the drag queens, awed by both their performance, appearance and their chutzpah.
The event was a positive unification of the LGBTQ community. They were excited about hosting different events in the future, particularly annual pride events. The pride events of 2009 indicated both the LGBTQ and Lethbridge community were able to overcome bigotry and homophobia, to move forward to embrace diversity in Lethbridge.