About 400 people took part in Airdrie’s first Pride Festival on Saturday, walking from city hall heading towards Nose Creek Park.
Organizers didn’t know what to expect, wondering if there would only be a handful of people or if there would be protestors.
“We lived here for 11 years before I felt comfortable walking out in Airdrie because I was afraid of all the stereotypes and all of the small town Alberta stuff,” said Airdrie Pride president Kiersten Mohr.
Soon, hundreds packed the area in front of city hall where the Pride flag was raised for the month of June. The solidarity walk made its way to Nose Creek Park where another flag was hoisted in front of a cheering crowd.
“It’s phenomenal. I just posted the video of the walk on Facebook and it goes forever and there’s just a tremendous amount of support from everybody in the community. It’s awesome,” said Airdrie Mayor Peter Brown.
The event’s organizer said with a population of 70,000, Airdrie was in need of its own pride community, separate from Calgary and especially for young people.
“We realized that that 20 kilometres between the two cities is actually a really big barrier, especially for youth if they are in a situation at home where they don’t have a supportive family, then they can’t get to those programs in Calgary,” Mohr said.
For people who grew up in Airdrie, it was an emotional day to see how their community has evolved.
“It’s overwhelming. It almost makes me want to cry,” said Courtney Rose, owner of Rose Gold Piercing and an event sponsor.
“It’s a big change for anyone who grew up in small-town Alberta that sometimes it’s hard to overcome the stigmas of being yourself. And being able to express yourself in a society that may be a little more conservative. Airdrie was very much like that growing up and now I think we can see that things are changing.”
The organizer’s parents drove in from Moose Jaw, Sask., for the event and were stunned by the turnout, reflecting on the difficult journey their daughter has had to get this place.
“It was tough with what she went through, but how she got through it was amazing too,” said Ken Mohr. “Don’t turn your back on them. Be there to support them. They need the love and they need your support. Don’t be afraid of what other people say. They are your children.”
But not everyone supports Pride flags flying over public institutions.
A protest is planned for Monday in Surrey, B.C., with the RCMP detachment expected to raise the rainbow flag.
“I think those groups and those people are always going to be out there,” said Kiersten Mohr. “I think they are a very small minority and that is the message to allies. We just need the wave of love to wash that away.”