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‘Rainbows everywhere’ but it’s still Alberta: What Banff Pride means in the conservative province

Banff Pride is celebrating its ninth year. Photo from 2019. Courtesy: Lao'd Productions

No matter who you are or who you love, you’re welcome in Banff.

It’s the resounding message of Pride, which kicked off Sunday.

“Banff is still a small town, and the whole community really shows up. It was really heartwarming Sunday with our flag raising and Rainbow Walk,” organizer Jeffrey Carpenter said Tuesday.

“You see your next-door neighbours, and you see the people that you run into at the grocery store come out and show their Pride as well. You get that really kind of authentic community spirit.

“We had an open mic night, and we had a range of people that were just speaking to performers, and it was just so nice to have this safe, welcoming venue in our town that we can really just be who we are and be proud to have our voice and share it.”

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Window displays are up; businesses are showing their Pride.

“We also have 30 different restaurants participating in Taste the Rainbow where those restaurants either have a cocktail or a dessert that is Pride-themed, and then portions of those sales go to local LGBTQ charities or non-profits.”

Drag performers pose during the 2020 Banff Pride festival. Courtesy: Lao'd Productions

‘We’re still in Alberta’

However, Pride is more than magnificent drag queens dancing in the Rockies.

“Despite us having a very vibrant community here in Banff, we’re still in Alberta and still fighting to have our voices heard,” Carpenter said.

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On the surface level, Banff is inclusive, he said. But there is still work to do and an opportunity for diversity, equity and inclusion training, especially as the town “welcomes the world.”

“Banff can be kind of like an anomaly, I find, in Alberta because we do have so many international workers, and all of our visitors are just so international, so it does feel like a good, nice mixing pot here,” Carpenter said.

“But in the end, we’re still in Alberta, and Alberta continues to be quite conservative,” he said.

Carpenter cited provincial and federal politicians who voted to eliminate protections on gay-straight alliances and are against banning conversion therapy.

Read more: Coming out as trans in Alberta: ‘It’s hard at first… I was always hyper vigilant’

Pride started as a protest and continues to be, he explained.

“Despite externally, it looking like a big party, Pride is and always will be political because it’s showing visibility for a group that continues to be discriminated against,” Carpenter said.

Pandemic effects

Banff Pride is celebrating its ninth year.

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The festival has grown since the pandemic hit. Pre-COVID, Banff Pride had one big party. Now with restrictions, there are smaller-scale events.

“In 2019, that event that we did hold sold out, had 500 people, but now, we have a weeklong worth of events that are selling out,” Carpenter said.

“I think it just spurred creativity. There was still a need and a want to celebrate Pride, but we had to find a new way to do it.”

Read more: 2021 Calgary Pride Festival wraps up with drive-in extravaganza

Banff Pride runs Oct. 3-11.

There are more than 27 events, which include a flag raising, storytime at the library, panel discussions, a run, rock climbing, yoga, a ghost walk, “Queer-lesque,” a Rocky Horror Picture Show screening, an “Indigiqueer” drag performance and a drag show atop Sulphur Mountain.

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