Thousands turn out for annual Pride Parade

The crowds were loud, boisterous and brimming with pride.

For many who walked in this year’s 26th annual Pride Parade it was about standing tall and just being themselves.

For Sean Burkowski, who has been openly gay for the past 16 years, it was about walking through the streets of Winnipeg hand-in-hand with his boyfriend; something he said he never would have done in high school.

“You got taunted for being gay, for being fem, for being whatever the descriptions were. Afraid of being threatened, shunned,” said Burkowski.

It’s a far cry from the parade held in Winnipeg in 1987.  That year 250 people were brave enough to walk in the city’s first gay pride parade but not to show their faces. Many did the walk with a paper bag on their head.

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“People were scared, nervous. You could actually be persecuted. The law was there, you could lose your job,” said Healthy Living Minister Jim Rondeau.

Chad Smith from the Rainbow Resource Center said the province has made many strides in the past 30 years but believes there is still a lot of work that needs to happen.

“We have seen homophobia in Manitoba in the last few months. We need to change this for the next generation and hopefully two generations from now everyone will be included and be treated as equals,” said Smith.

Gay rights have been a hot button issue in 2013 so far. The Government of Manitoba’s proposed anti-bullying legislation has been met with opposition from various, mostly religious, groups. Most of the controversy swirling around Bill 18 has centred on the allowance of gay-straight alliance groups in schools. Opponents argue it violates religious freedoms.

In April, Pots N Hands restaurant in Morris closed up shop after the openly gay owners claimed they were being taunted with homophobic slurs.

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