Edmonton Pride Festival returns to Churchill Square under new organization

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Edmonton Pride Festival returns to Churchill Square under new organization
The Edmonton Pride Festival is returning to Churchill Square after an eight-year absence and under new organizers. Breanna Karstens-Smith reports – May 9, 2022

After eight years, the Edmonton Pride Festival is returning to Churchill Square on June 25.

A new team is organizing the event this year.

“It’s been four years since we’ve had a major Pride festival in Edmonton for a number of reasons,” said Trevor Watson with Edmonton PrideFest Association.

“COVID has definitely put a damper on a number of festivities. There’s so many organizations and support groups within the LGBTQ community that just haven’t been able to get their services out there and get their message out there… To have this festival return to Churchill Square, to have the community come together, it’s really something special.”

It will be a free, public, family-friendly event with entertainment, “Rainbow Road” (an LGBTQ2S+ market and organizations that provide support services and advocacy to the LGBTQ2S+ community), and a licensed beer garden.

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“We are thrilled to bring back Edmonton PrideFest to Churchill Square this June,” said Josh Arsenault, event manager with Edmonton PrideFest. “Our team is excited to take on this project and we know it’s been greatly missed by the community.

“We are excited to bring this safe and inclusive space back to Edmonton, and the event will be a chance to advocate, educate and celebrate our LGBTQ2S+ friends and allies,” Arsenault said in a news release Monday.

In 2019, the Edmonton Pride Festival Society cancelled the event, citing a lack of funding and volunteers as well as a belief the organization was “not fulfilling our mission this year, which is to unify our community.”

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

The year before, the parade was halted for more than half an hour by demonstrators demanding organizers uninvite Edmonton police officers, the RCMP and military personnel from the event, amid a country-wide debate over the presence of police in Pride parades.

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Demonstrators also asked that the Edmonton Pride Festival Society have more BIPOC and trans folks on its board and staff, more acknowledgement of Pride’s history as a stance against police oppression, and more inclusion of and spaces for people of colour and trans folks in the festival.

“There were definitely issues that have been brought to our attention that happened at previous festivals,” Watson said on Monday.

“It’s become apparent to myself and my colleagues and friends in the community, that there are a lot of voices within the queer umbrella that are underrepresented and they’re not being heard. We’re really hoping that by putting on what we believe will be the biggest Pride event in Alberta history, we’re going to give a platform and stage to those groups.

“We’re not going to speak on their behalf; we’re going to put that stage in for them and invite them to come say whatever message they have to give.”

The 2022 Edmonton PrideFest will be bigger and more inclusive than ever, Watson said.

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“We’re really going to be highlighting a lot of the minority performers within the queer umbrella, QTBIPOC organizations,” he explained.

“We can’t announce who the headline act is yet but it’s definitely someone we really hope will represent a lot of unheard voices within the queer community.”

There’s also a yet-to-be-announced Pride event happening Friday, June 24, he said.

“Not only are we here to celebrate; we’re here to educate and advocate,” Watson added. “We’re really hoping this is going to be an opportunity to get a message out there and represent a number of different minorities in the queer community.”

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Rob Browatzke, owner of Evolution Wonderlounge, said Pride really never left Edmonton, but it’s great to see more events choose downtown.

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“In 2020, we were planning on moving our street festival from 103 Street to Churchill Square, and then obviously, just as we were just getting the ball rolling on that, everything fell apart.

“It has been our goal to keep downtown super involved in Pride,” he explained. “That’s why we were doing our street festival 2017, 2018, 2019. So we’re super excited to see someone else pick up that baton and run with it, helping as much as we can.”

Evolution will have a full month of Pride programming in June, including hosting queens from Canada’s Drag Race, DJs and highlighting local talent too.

“One of the other things that we’re really doing this year is working with a bunch of other groups and businesses, supporting their events, to make Pride more festive for everyone everywhere,” Browatzke said.

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He doesn’t know if or when a Pride Parade will return to Edmonton but said there’s a lot of Pride events taking place to keep people excited and energized.

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“It’s a celebration of what we’ve overcome. And certainly as a city, as a community, we’ve overcome a lot in the past couple years. But it’s also the struggles before that. It’s also still a recognition of battles that need to be fought,” Browatzke said.

“We can’t ever forget that Pride started as a protest, and there are still things to protest and certainly, there’s a lot more still on the horizon. Now is not the time to let down our guards and stop being vigilant but certainly I think we can take a few moments to celebrate and enjoy each other too.”

He expects this year’s Edmonton Pride — which is also the 40th anniversary — will be a big one.

“The city really, really needs it, certainly the queer and trans communities really need it. I think we really need that celebration, that chance to be together again.

“There’s been some great virtual events but I think people are really looking forward to being back together in person. And, seeing the lineup of events all over the city in some exciting new places, I think it’s going to be a really good Pride.”

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Performers at the 2022 Edmonton PrideFest event will include international recording artist Virginia to Vegas, Edmonton’s Neha Batra, and several local and internationally recognized Drag Queens.

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Gates will open at 11 a.m. and will run until 10:30 p.m.

The Edmonton PrideFest Association describes itself as “a local non-profit with the mission of establishing one of Canada’s largest and most exciting Pride festival in the heart of Alberta.”

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