‘Pride is exceptionally important this year,’ Alberta LGBTQ community says

Click to play video: 'Pride Month about to get underway in Alberta as provincial policies loom'
Pride Month about to get underway in Alberta as provincial policies loom
WATCH: The start of Pride Month is just a few days away – but the celebrations feel different for many people this year. Controversial provincial policies continue to weigh heavily on the LGBTQ2S+ community. Morgan Black reports – May 28, 2024

Pride Month is typically celebrated in June, but this year, events in Alberta may take on a different, more serious, tone.

“Pride is exceptionally important this year,” said Rob Browatzke, co-owner of Evolution Wonderlounge, an LGBTQ2 bar in Edmonton. “We need to come together as a community. We need to stand up. We need to celebrate, but we do need to remember that Pride, even in Edmonton, has its roots as a protest.”

Browatzke says this year, the celebrations will be mixed with activism.

“The rainbows, the dance, the celebration — that is what I’ve spent my entire life trying to help create in the city. It’s balanced still with the fight, with the protest, with the activism, with standing up. But sometimes, just the simple act of creating queer joy, of being a queer or trans person in the city and still celebrating, that is a political act,” he said.

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Click to play video: 'The West Block: Feb. 4, 2024 | Alberta Premier Danielle Smith defends new transgender policies, federal minister reacts'
The West Block: Feb. 4, 2024 | Alberta Premier Danielle Smith defends new transgender policies, federal minister reacts

Premier Danielle Smith has said Alberta will be bringing in new rules affecting the LGBTQ2 community, including parental notifications and/or consent for youth changing their names or pronouns at school, as well as restricting access to gender-affirming healthcare like hormone treatment and surgery.

The UCP government also plans to change parental consent for sexual education in schools, moving from an opt-out approach to an opt-in one, which some educators fear will mean more youth will miss out on crucial health education.

The province also plans to clamp down on transgender female athletes competing in women’s and girls’ sports.

The proposed changes are expected to be made in the fall legislative sitting.

“The government is introducing these policies across several ministries to preserve the choices children and youth have before potentially making life-altering and often irreversible adult decisions,” said the premier’s press secretary in an email.

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Sam Blackett said the Alberta government is providing additional support to help transgender adults get the healthcare they need and is developing a private registry of medical professionals who specialize in this field.

“Additionally, we’re developing a counselling pilot project to help youth identifying as transgender and their families work through often difficult and complex issues and discussions.”

The premier and cabinet will work on these policies — some with consultation and feedback — with the aim of implementing them by the end of the year, Blackett said.

Click to play video: 'Danielle Smith says U.K. decision to limit access to puberty blockers is example for Alberta'
Danielle Smith says U.K. decision to limit access to puberty blockers is example for Alberta

The proposed policies have sparked outcry from advocates and the LGBTQ2 community, with many calling them transphobic. Alberta legal scholars have described the proposed policies as unconstitutional.

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They’ve prompted protests and open letters, asking the province to reconsider policy changes affecting transgender youth.

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“There is so much work that needs to be done,” said Adebayo Chris Katiiti, the founder of RaricaNow, an organization for LGBTQ2 refugees.

“They’ve heard from many of us and now the question is: what are they going to do to respect human dignity and also pride?”

Katiiti, a transgender man, says now it’s time for the Alberta government to listen and act.

“Pride is always a protest and I think anybody who’s organizing events are really prioritizing that. Now there are more issues that we need to protest, especially the trans policies,” he said.

“We want to protest but also show our radical trans joy that despite the policies, despite our parents kicking us out or other countries being very homophobic and transphobic, we are still living. We are still trans people who are here and we are not going anywhere.”

Click to play video: 'Albertans rally in support of trans rights at the legislature Sunday'
Albertans rally in support of trans rights at the legislature Sunday

Earlier in May, a group of 14 Alberta LGBTQ2 organizations officially banned Premier Smith and the UCP from 2024 Pride events.

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The following groups were undersigned on the group’s news release: Calgary Pride; Edmonton’s Pride Corner, Lethbridge Pride, Canmore Pride, Banff Pride, Jasper Pride, Central Alberta Pride Society, Red Deer Queer CA, HOMES, Lacombe Pride; Fort Sask Pride Okotoks Pride; Foothills Rainbow; and Connect Queer Alberta Safety Net.

The group said the ban is in direct response to Smith’s “stated intention to infringe on the rights, freedoms and healthcare of the transgender community in Alberta.

“You may not join our celebrations in June when you plan to attack us in September. Queer rights should not be a political decision. Trans rights are human rights. We invite Premier Smith to re-consider her harmful and damaging policies and engage in meaningful discussions with the Two-Spirit, trans, non-binary and Queer community.”

“The fact that these organizations had to take such actions speaks volumes about the failure of this UCP government,” said Lizette Tejada, the NDP critic for LGBTQ2 issues.

“We demand that the UCP government end this attack on the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and return Alberta to being a province where we celebrate one another instead of going after the rights of the most vulnerable.”

Alberta NDP unveils Pride flag including two-spirit representation on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. Wes Rosa/Global News

The Alberta NDP unveiled its three-storey Pride flag on Wednesday.

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“For the first time, two-spirit Albertans will see their identity represented visually in our flag,” said Brooks Arcand-Paul, NDP critic for Indigenous Relations.

“This flag represents so much to our whole community, namely that I won’t be the last two-spirit MLA in the legislature. Because this house belongs to all Albertans and we will never stop reminding the UCP of that fact.”

“This year’s unveiling of our Pride flag is particularly important as Danielle Smith has specifically targeted the 2SLGBTQ+ community, especially trans Albertans, through legislation, through the spread of misinformation, and platforming of harmful and discriminatory voices,” Rachel Notley said.

“The minute we start to normalize the idea of compromising the fundamental human rights of any group, then we put at risk the fundamental human rights of all groups and all Albertans,” she stressed.

Ron Byers, promoter for Pride Edmonton, says the Alberta government has a chance to be part of the conversation.

“The UCP government has an opportunity to be a part of our celebrations as a Pride community if they’re wiling to come to the table with open minds for frank, honest, truthful conversations.

“If they want to blow it and just close their doors, that’s them,” he said.

Click to play video: 'How could Danielle Smith’s transgender policy proposals impact Alberta’s UCP?'
How could Danielle Smith’s transgender policy proposals impact Alberta’s UCP?

Tanya Fir, Alberta’s minister of Arts, Culture and Status of Women, says she’s in communication with members of the LGBTQ community.

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“I have an open-door policy. I continue to meet informally and have discussions with members of the community,” she said. “I want to continue that dialogue and keep that conversation going,” Fir said. “And we look forward to celebrating Pride month and raising the flag. I’m looking forward to attending events put on by organizations where I am welcome and encouraged to come.

“And I continue to support the community through my ministry, with encouraging them to apply for some of the community grants that are available.”

Katiiti said he’s been invited to the flag-raising ceremony. He’s not sure yet if he’ll attend.

“If they have the confidence to host a Pride flag-raising ceremony, they should have the same confidence to listen to trans issues and make sure those policies don’t pass.

“If you’re going to take the liberty to invite us into your space, you really have to be intentional about … our presence in the space and the impact of the policies you support.”

But, he stressed the need for unity and representation.

“The more they see us in their spaces, the more they know we’re here.”

Click to play video: 'Tegan and Sara use Junos speech to call out policies affecting trans youth'
Tegan and Sara use Junos speech to call out policies affecting trans youth

Katiiti is still hopeful the proposed policies will change before they’re implemented and that the Pride flag-raising invitation is a good sign.

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“The reality is it’s still the trans communities that are still left behind and very easily targeted by institutions, by our families, by governments, by policy makers, we are always targeted. These are the underrepresented voices.”

And his message to trans youth in Alberta?

“You deserve to exist. You deserve to be protected, respected.”

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