Pride Winnipeg Festival promises more inclusive events, unveils new theme

After 30 years, the Pride Winnipeg Festival is making big changes to how they do things. 

Festival president Jonathan Niemczak said, for the first time, the festival will focus less on the triumphs within the local LGBT community and more on the work that still needs to be done.

Organizers revealed the festival's 2017 theme on Wednesday — Resurgence: Taking Back Space — to "amplify that message that there are still folks within our community that aren't at that stage of celebration. They're still facing oppression in their day to day lives ... [We're] using our festival, our platform and our power to shine a light on these other forms of oppression and counter them," said Niemczak, pointing to racism and Islamophobia.

The change comes after the festival and its organizers faced sharp criticism over exclusion and exclusivity.

Concerns from the LGBT community included discrimination and judgment during pride events and little to no representation in pride materials.

"A lot of the marketing material we used tended to have white individuals. A lot of times it was stock footage, and they just didn't really see themselves," said Niemczak. "One of the comments was that they felt Pride was for the beautiful people."

So festival organizers spent months revamping how they do things. A photo shoot was held, inviting community members to model. Those photos are now being used in the branding of this year's festival.

It meant delaying the rollout of this year's theme by four months.

 "This particular theme has tons and tons of new changes and things that rolled out of it that required lots of community consultation on each of them … We weren't ready in January," said Niemczak.

Wednesday night, the festival has invited the community to the West End Cultural Centre to kick off the festival and celebrate the new theme.

"If you look at the acronym LGBTTQ, we've done a lot for the LG. Now we have to work on the BTTQ," said Niemczak.

Other changes include designated spots on the festival's governance board for individuals who self-identify as female, transgender, a queer or transgender person of colour, Indigenous and Two-Spirited, people over age 55, people living with disabilities and people who are non-binary.

A parade grant program will provide parade entries for groups that may not be able to afford to submit an entry, and space is being made available at festival events at The Forks for groups who want to promote diversity and inclusiveness.

Later this week, the festival is releasing their guide to the festival, and they plan to announce this year's headliners and new programming soon.

More than 33 community events are planned for the festival, culminating in the annual parade on June 4.