Pride flags raised at Alberta legislature, Edmonton City Hall on Friday

Click to play video: 'Pride 2019 in Edmonton will be a bit different' Pride 2019 in Edmonton will be a bit different
WATCH ABOVE: While Edmonton's official Pride Parade and festival were cancelled this year, other groups have stepped up to offer a number of different Pride events. Julia Wong explains what the long-term hope is – Jun 7, 2019

Rainbow flags were raised at both the Alberta legislature grounds and Edmonton City Hall on Friday to celebrate Pride.

June is Pride Month, a 30-day celebration of the impact the LGBTQ community has had on the world, as well as the struggles it has faced and continues to face. It’s typically marked by an array of events, festivals, parades and of course, rainbow flags.

READ MORE: Pride Month is here. This is how it started and what it looks like today

At 9 a.m. on Friday, Alberta’s minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Leela Aheer helped raise the Pride flag on the legislature grounds outside the Federal Building.

“It’s more than a symbol,” Aheer said at the event. “It represents a commitment from government to create an Alberta where everyone can succeed, regardless of how they identify or who they love.

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Then, at 1:30 p.m., Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson joined members of city council and other leadership staff to raise the rainbow flag outside city hall.

The event kicks off Pride Week and included the official proclamation of Pride Week by the mayor.

The city also unveiled an Edmonton Transit Service Pride bus.

“This bus symbolizes the inclusive and welcoming culture we’re building at the City of Edmonton,” said Gord Cebryk, deputy city manager of City Operations.

“This has been an inspiring and meaningful project for many employees in ETS and across the organization.”

The ETS Pride bus will be in service year-round, the mayor said.

Edmonton Transit Service Pride bus, unveiled to kick off Pride Week in Edmonton, June 7, 2019. Courtesy: Twitter/City of Edmonton

READ MORE: 2019 Edmonton Pride Festival cancelled

The Edmonton Pride Festival Society released an email on April 10 saying it decided to cancel the annual event for 2019.

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The next day, Global News spoke with a member of the society’s board of directors, who 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.

Watch below (April 11): Wednesday we told you the Pride Parade had been cancelled this year. Thursday, we are hearing why. Organizers say they were pushed too far. Kendra Slugoski looks at how to move forward.

Click to play video: 'Why did Edmonton Pride Festival Society cancel 2019 event?' Why did Edmonton Pride Festival Society cancel 2019 event?
Why did Edmonton Pride Festival Society cancel 2019 event? – Apr 11, 2019

Iveson said Friday Pride is “alive and well” in Edmonton despite the cancellation of the official festival.

“The cancellation of the parade and festival by the not-for-profit organization set in motion a whole bunch of innovation and different groups coming forward to put on different kinds of events,” he said.

“There’s still lots to celebrate while recognizing there’s still a lot more work to do to make everybody feel safe and included in our city.”

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Iveson said the city is aware of conversations that are happening within the different fragments of the LGBTQ community.

“There are pressures within the community from groups who feel that they have been marginalized and who have a desire for Pride to evolve to include them more robustly. That’s something for the community to work through and we’ll support them and mediate or enable, whatever kind of work is necessary to be able to bring the community back together,” he said.

READ MORE: Alternate Pride events following cancellation of Edmonton festival

Joshua Bergman, co-founder of Pride Run, said he had attended pride events for approximately 10 years before their abrupt cancellation.

“It was amazing,” he said of the previous festivals. “To see not only the LGBTQ community come out and be in the parade and at the parade, but seeing allies as well as people that are not within the community but coming out and supporting the community is great.”

Bergman said there are still dozens of events taking place even if the official festival has been cancelled.

“Pride isn’t just owned by one organization or one person or one group of people. There’s many different events that are occurring over the next two weeks,” he said.

“Pride is still happening; it’s just different than what most people know it as.”

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Bergman said Pride events are typically rooted in protest and progress.

“The change this year I think has forced people within our community and outside of our community to reflect on the fact that there are people in our community that haven’t experienced progress at the same rate as everyone else,” he said.

“Particularly black, Indigenous and other people of colour that continue to face significant forms of oppression, including racism, from outside and within our communities. Pride is about acknowledging that reality and speaking up against those systemic injustices and creating spaces for those voices.”

READ MORE: Alberta introduces amended Education Act, Opposition says LGBTQ kids at risk

On Wednesday, while responding to the United Conservative government’s education act announcement, the NDP pointed out the timing of the bill in relation to Pride.

“It’s Pride Month and this government is about to raise the Pride flag on Friday at the same time that they’re rolling back LGBTQ rights,” said Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood, who’s also the NDP LGBTQ issues critic.

“It’s simply unacceptable. The minister talks about balance? There’s no balance when you’re talking about protecting vulnerable students.”

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said Bill 8, the Education Amendment Act, will modernize and improve education across Alberta.

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The Opposition, however, said the changes to the legislation weaken rules around students being able to form gay-straight alliances in schools in a timely fashion and could even lead to children who join the clubs being outed.

Watch below: Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and NDP MLAs Janis Irwin and Sarah Hoffman talk about Bill 8

“This is a personal issue for me, being a member of the LGBTQ community and the only openly gay LGBTQ MLA currently,” Irwin said on Wednesday.

She said she’s heard from “countless” students who stressed the importance of GSAs and who had concerns the UCP’s proposed legislation had loopholes when it came to establishing the clubs and protecting the kids who joined them.

READ MORE: Alberta passes contentious Bill 24, strengthening gay-straight alliances

“If I weren’t hearing stories day after day, we’d maybe be able to try to work a little better with the education minister on this,” Irwin added.

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NDP Education Critic Sarah Hoffman says Bill 8 is a step backwards.

“I think that really the thrust of this is around an act to destroy GSAs, an act to put kids at risk, and they’re doing that right here in the middle of Pride Month.”

READ MORE: 72 countries still criminalize LGBT relationships: report

According to the UCP, the Opposition’s characterization of the issue is a case of playing politics.

“Our government is committed to building a safe and caring province for all Albertans, regardless of where they come from, how they pray, who they love, or how they identify,” Payman Parseyan, spokesperson for the ministry of Culture, Multiculturalism, and Status of Women, said in a statement to Global News.

“The NDP’s attempt to play politics with Alberta’s LGBTQ community is incredibly disappointing.”

The Education Ministry, meanwhile, is clarifying the government’s position on GSAs.

“We oppose mandatory parental notification of any student,” spokesperson Colin Aitchison told Global News. “Alberta will have the most comprehensive protections for LGBTQ+ students in Canada.”

READ MORE: Alberta conservatives clash with leaders on gay-straight alliances at UCP policy meeting

“Section 35.1 of the Education Act specifically guarantees students entitlements to create inclusion groups, including GSAs and QSAs (queer-straight alliances). Schools cannot disclose a student’s membership in any inclusion group, as there are student privacy considerations that trump other legislation.

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“Under Alberta’s privacy legislation, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and the Personal Information Protection Act, disclosure of GSA membership would only be justified if a student is at a risk of harm. Our government trusts educators to navigate these difficult situations to do what is in the best interest of kids.”

READ MORE: Edmonton Pride Festival rejects UCP’s application to march in Pride parade

There was a small group of protesters outside the legislature Friday morning as the United Conservative government raised the Pride flag.

Several people held signs with statements including: “You cannot attack our rights and raise a rainbow flag!” and “Pride 2019 = resisting UCP oppression.”

Aheer was asked about the protest on Friday.

“Truthfully, we have the strongest protections for our incredible LGBTQ2S+ youth and gender diverse communities.

“Part of what you go through with this process is consulting and really reaching out,” she said. “I do a lot with our local communities and with the kids and with their parents.

“This is about making sure we have a balance of making sure those — I mean, the kids have to be protected. The whole point of the GSAs in the first place is to make sure they have safe and caring spaces. We’re going to make sure they have that.”

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Aheer said she’d be in her riding Saturday, attending Pride events in Chestermere and Strathmore.

— With files from Julia Wong, Global News

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