Mayor Don Iveson said he was sad to hear the 2019 Pride Festival was cancelled but also understands it’s a complex situation and not unique to Edmonton.
“I know many Edmontonians from all walks of life enjoy the spirit of inclusion and diversity and everyone being welcome at Pride,” he said Thursday. “A lot of people are mourning that today, concerned that they won’t have that opportunity this year. So it’s very unfortunate.”
READ MORE: 2019 Edmonton Pride Festival cancelled
Ultimately, he said, the decision is the Edmonton Pride Festival Society’s to make.
“It’s the Pride organization’s decision and we respect their decision. I think it would be a challenge for the city to get directly involved in their decision-making. They’re an independent organization and I think we have to respect that.
“But we’ll also be open to other suggestions for opportunities to have gatherings where people can feel welcome and celebrate all of the glorious diversity that you find in the city with pride.”
On Wednesday, an email obtained by Global News sent out by the Edmonton Pride Festival Society said the Edmonton Pride Festival won’t take place at all this year.
A member on the society’s board of directors, whose name Global News has agreed to keep anonymous, said a funding and volunteer deficit, as well as a belief the organization could not fulfill its goal, led to the decision to cancel the event.
“We felt that we were not fulfilling our mission this year, which is to unify our community.
“And so we felt it best to step back now at a point where we can do that without causing harm to the society’s structure.”
In another email, festival organizers wrote about a heated meeting last week between EPFS members and other LGBTQ+ groups called Shades of Colour, which advocates for “queer and trans Indigenous, Black, and people of colour,” and RaricaNow, a group that promotes human rights for LGBTIQ+ refugees and newcomers in Canada.
“The festival has been provided demands, involving a complete restructuring of our festival and our commitments to sponsors, which we needed to bring to our membership,” the Pride Society said in an email dated April 6. “A special meeting was called as per our bylaws.”
Police ended up being called when the disagreements became heated.
“They really need to ask themselves: where is that fear coming from?” said Victoria Guzman, a member of Shades of Colour. “Because we are not the source of that fear. Who taught them to be afraid of us? We have been trying to sit at the table peacefully with them for months now. If anyone is going to be violent, it’s going to be the hate groups that show up.
“We never asked for the festival to be cancelled whatsoever,” Guzman added. “We just asked for… We were negotiating on needs that needed to be met.”
She said the groups definitely made demands, but that they were negotiable.
“We made these demands because we felt that the meetings we were going to for the last 10 months weren’t really going anywhere and that they weren’t taking our needs seriously.”
Last year, 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.
Watch below: On Wednesday, Global News learned that the 2019 Edmonton Pride Festival is being cancelled. As Sarah Kraus reports, there are a lot of questions about what led to the decision.
The mayor said he’s heard of Pride organizations in other cities encountering similar situations.
“This is not something limited to the city of Edmonton. We understand Pride organizations are encountering challenges around North America, with increasing complexity and what does it mean to be inclusive to everybody.
“I have sympathy for the Pride board and the challenges that they faced trying to figure out how to create an event that is welcoming to everyone, which is the spirit of Pride, that’s its heritage.”
Iveson said it’s not really the city’s place to step in and either mediate the dispute or organize the event itself.
“I don’t think it falls to the City of Edmonton to attempt to organize an event like this,” the mayor said. “Its strength and its heritage has always been a community initiative. So, we’ll support the community to find a resolution and find some healing and find a path forward. I’m not sure that it falls to the city to try to organize an event on behalf of the community.”
Iveson said the civic events office would help facilitate organizing those events.
Other local groups have reiterated they will continue hosting Pride events in June.
Shades of Colour is organizing an Edmonton Stonewall 50th Anniversary Rally at the Alberta Legislature on June 28.
Edmonton Pride Run and Walk will host its event as planned on June 15.
“I think sometimes you have to tear something down to build something stronger up, so maybe this is that opportunity,” said Rob Browatzke, the owner of Evolution Wonderlounge.
“It’s very unfortunate that it’s got to this.
“I hope that people still continue to support the other events that are going on, whether it’s here or so many other straight venues in the city that are very supportive of the queer community and that when Pride gets back on course, that the support and attendance returns.”
“It’s disappointing,” former city councillor and LGBTQ advocate Michael Phair said. “Times change, different people involved, additional kinds of issues — it speaks to the diversity of the community these days. Ensuring that people, whatever label — queer, gay, lesbian — are in fact recognized as decent citizens and guaranteed their rights and have a place in society is really the long-term thing that I think we need to accomplish.
“I think parades and the rest help that to happen but there are other things going on that that’s still carrying on.”
— With files from Global’s Kendra Slugoski and Phil Heidenreich