Manitoba Indigenous leader proudly looks back on Pride Parade's Winnipeg roots

·4 min read

When Albert McLeod saw thousands marching through downtown Winnipeg in this month’s Pride parade, he couldn’t help but think about how much has changed, and how society and attitudes have changed since he took part in Winnipeg’s very first Pride event more than three decades ago.

“It was amazing,” McLeod said about his experience attending this year's Winnipeg Pride parade on June 5 in downtown Winnipeg. “Because people might not know this, but back in '87 there was some real and serious concern.

“We were really concerned about the possibility of violence, and people had real concern about being outed through the media, or just by walking through the streets.”

According to McLeod, when approximately 250 people gathered at Vimy Ridge Park, and later marched to Memorial Park near the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg’s very first Pride event on Aug 2, 1987, several chose to keep their identities hidden by wearing masks that were handed out by organizers, because of the fear of what could happen to them if they didn’t hide their faces.

“You could be fired from your job, you could be shunned from your family, and some were not out, so the concern was real for many,” McLeod said.

He said approximately 30 people chose to hide their faces that day, by wearing paper bags with eye holes, and many wondered if while the group was marching, if there would be risks to their personal safety and security.

According to McLeod, one participant that day told him that he was willing to risk his own life to march in Winnipeg’s first Pride parade.

“There was a lot of violence that was happening at the time, because in the 80’s you had this real AIDS-phobia, and one of the organizers told me that day, ‘They could threaten to shoot me, but I’m still going to march today regardless.’

“But that was the level of the unknown back in '87.”

Winnipeg’s first Pride event, which was dubbed the Lesbian & Gay Pride Day, was held as a celebration in the summer of 1987, after Manitoba passed the Human Rights Code, protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

McLeod, who has roots in the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation and the Métis community of Norway House, and who currently sits on the board of directors of the non-profit group Two-Spirited People of Manitoba, said he has been going to Pride events every year in Winnipeg since that first event in 1987.

He said what has amazed him over the years as Pride events have grown, is how much public, political and corporate support Pride events now receive, as he said there was really no public support at all back in 1987.

“It has changed so much, the Mayor speaks and politicians speak, and you just see the number of floats, and that’s always something that amazes me, because the biggest float that first year was a couple of bicycles,” he said.

This year's Pride event has now been confirmed to be the largest in Winnipeg’s history, as Pride Winnipeg 2022 organizers said that approximately 50,000 people attended Pride events during this year’s Pride week, which ran from May 27 to June 5.

McLeod says he also appreciates seeing more young people coming to Pride events over the years, and he believes youth are becoming far more educated about, and understanding of LGBTQ+ issues, and about sexuality and gender identity.

“A lot of youth now understand what is happening, because they are growing up in a much more sophisticated society when it comes to gender identity and sexuality, and society has moved far more to a place of accepting and respecting,” McLeod said.

He said even as society becomes more accepting, events like Pride continue to be important, because there is still a lot of work to do to ensure equality for those in the LGBTQ+ community, and to ensure that everyone understands the importance of that equality.

“There is always going to be work to do, because whenever you have progress than you inevitably have people that push back against that progress, so we need to be vigilant and we need to continue marching,” McLeod said.

“We need to march to assert out place as citizens of this nation, because it’s not a question, it is cemented in our constitution and cemented in our own values.

“We fought that battle and we won, and those who are homophobic or pushing back against that, well there is just no place for them here in Canada.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

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