A counter-protest of sorts — and a show of support and inclusivity — continues to grow each week at a popular Edmonton street corner.
Every Friday for the last several months, a group of LGBTQ community members and allies has been gathering at the corner of Whyte Avenue and Gateway Boulevard.
“It started out as a need or a desire to counter-protest the street preachers,” one of Pride Corner organizers, Erica Posteraro, told Global News on Tuesday. “One in particular has been on that corner on Whyte Avenue every Friday for almost 11 years now.
“When you’re near them you sort of get messages of condemnation, they are quite queer-phobic, saying queer people are going to hell, they need to turn from their ways and repent, that we’re living in sin.”
Street preachers are often seen there, holding signs that read: “Jesus Christ came to the world to save sinners,” and can be heard saying things like: “It’s not a matter of the heart; it’s a matter of the will” through a microphone and speaker.
“I think a lot of people in Edmonton are very frustrated with that,” Posteraro said. “That’s why it has kind of picked up and caught on as well as it has. A lot of people are just frustrated and feel unsafe on that corner.
“So we basically wanted to go in and sort of change the narrative and make it a fun and happy and positive place and especially one where queer people can feel safe walking on that corner.”
Edmontonians have been gathering at the same corner every Friday from about 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., to show support for the LGBTQ2S+ community, often waving Pride flags, dressed up in rainbow colours and carrying signs of their own.
Some of the Pride signs read: “You can’t pray this gay away” and, “Born this way.”
“It was just something we started as doing to counter-protest and to let them know that we’re here and we’re not going anywhere and you can’t just continue, as an institution, doing this to queer people,” Posteraro said.
“And now it has developed into this beautiful community — way bigger than we ever could have dreamed of. So it’s been amazing.”
“We go there, we play music, we hold signs supportive of the queer community, and just dance and let passersby know that Edmonton overall is a place of inclusion and acceptance,” she said.
The Pride Corner group even crowd-funded to buy a large portable speaker to play music at the corner.
“In this very delicate social time — when it’s already hard enough for queer people to just exist in the world, for queer youth who are kicked out of their homes just for coming out or being who they are — it’s already hard enough.
“We are still people, we deserve to have happiness and love and go throughout our lives feeling safe.”
Posteraro says there’s been conversation — and sometimes tension — between Pride Corner supporters and the street preachers.
“I think that’s something that definitely us as organizers, and a lot of the people that show up, do see value in — is to not just continually ‘other’ everybody.
“We’re all humans, we’re all trying to get through and it’s really vital to have those conversations just so that we can get more of an idea of where they’re coming from… they might not have any queer people in their lives… Showing them that this harms us, that we are people as well and their words and their actions do ripple out and have real-life consequences for queer people.”
Now, there are calls to permanently designate the corner of Whyte Avenue and Gateway Boulevard “Pride Corner on Whyte.”
A change.org petition is asking Edmonton city council and the Old Strathcona Business Association to make the “Pride Corner” name official.
As of Tuesday, the petition had nearly 7,500 names.
The organizer, Brian Deacon, explained the origins of the spot.
“Claire Pearen began to protest the street preachers every Friday to show that hate speech against the 2SLGBTQ+ community does not belong in Edmonton,” he writes on the change.org page.
“Since then, the movement called ‘Pride Corner on Whyte’ has grown and every Friday, many people join to dance, to wave Pride flags and to hold signs.
“Why do the people of Edmonton do this? To show that hate will not be tolerated.”
Posteraro said they are overwhelmed by the response to the Friday gatherings and the petition to designate the corner.
“That would be really significant for the community just because historically that corner always has been an area of fear of unacceptance,” she said.
“It would just be really nice to have it transformed into an area of love and support for queer community members.”
The Pride Corner group will continue showing up every Friday afternoon, Posteraro says, through snow, hail, rain and heat waves. And other supporters and allies are welcome to join.
“Every time I show up and there’s 20-30 people there, I’m just floored and honoured.”
Her message to those passing by?
“There never needs to be any shame for being who you are. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s what makes the world turn: all of our amazing differences.
“It’s important to know that when you’re feeling alone, there is always going to be someone there,” she said. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with being who you are. That is how you’re meant to be.”