For Melissandra Groza, attending the Pride parade in St. John's this year is extra-special.
It'll be the first parade for Groza, who is originally from Bangladesh and moved to Newfoundland to study at Memorial University, as a gay and trans woman.
"Where I'm originally from, it was impossible for me to come out — to be myself," Groza said.
"Being openly queer, it's impossible. It's 15 years to life imprisonment if you declare yourselves as homosexual ... and that's the least of your problems, really. The religious extremism is pretty bad over there, and getting hurt is very common."
Groza said she grew up watching Pride celebrations in other countries, with communities holding parades and events. She said she hoped to one day come out as herself but it wasn't until late September 2019 that she took that step.
She said it severed her relationship with her parents and they stopped paying her tuition. It was a traumatizing time, she said, and she began to receive death threats.
"It was very difficult for me. Emotionally, I felt very isolated. Mentally, I was in a very dark place but I kept myself strong because I had to in order to survive," Groza told CBC News this week.
"By the time COVID started, it was a disaster for me. It was really a disaster. I had to apply for asylum here in Canada to ensure my own safety because aside [from] all the emotional torment I was facing from my own family and from my own religious community at that time. I had to get myself used to a lot of change in a very short period of time."
A continuing protest
Groza says Pride is more than a celebration; it's also a protest, she said, noting its roots in the Stonewall riots in New York City in June 1969.
"I'm already very open about my identity but during Pride I can be even more open about my identity," Groza said. "It's a tragic history but on top of that, now we celebrate. Pride is like the Christmas for all queer people."
Pride Week kicked off in St. John's on July 15 with a full calendar of events listed for the first time in three years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But with public health restrictions lifted, things are moving back to a pre-pandemic normal.
Creating a safe place and having discussions about gender and sexual identity, said Groza, motivates others to come out as well.
Pride is about being yourself, she said.
"It's a big responsibility for us to give them that opportunity. Pride is a very good time of year for it," said Groza.
"Before I moved here I was always paranoid that I was going to get hurt if someone figured out who I actually was. I did get hurt in 2010 for being queer.… It took me some time."