Nelson’s first pride parade remembered

Nelson's first gay pride parade in 1996 was the first in North America outside of a large city, according to organizers.

Nelson's first gay pride parade in 1996 was the first in North America outside of a large city

In 1996, about 50 gay and lesbian people met at the Women’s Centre to talk about whether to have Nelson’s first pride parade.

It wasn’t an easy discussion. In fact, there was a lot of disagreement about whether to have a parade at all.

Christopher Moore, one of the organizers of that parade and the one coming up on Sunday at 3 p.m., says there was a lot of fear.

“The discussion was about safety, about people who were there afraid of losing their jobs teachers, people who worked at the college, jobs where people were afraid of being outed.”

Moore says there was an approximately 50-50 split on whether to have the parade or not. But they decided, after much difficult discussion, to go ahead.

The decision, and the application for a street banner, prompted many articles and letters to the editor in the Nelson Daily News, some in favour of the parade, most against.

At left: Christopher Moore, photo by Bill Metcalfe

The organizers had no idea how many people would march.

“We might just get five people, we had no idea,” Moore says. “We worked hard on getting our allies on board. We gave letters to all the houses in the residential area we would be passing through, explaining it and being welcoming and asking people to join us.

“We went around to businesses, told them we were going down the street on a Saturday. We were met with some acceptance and a lot of no acceptance and a lot of not knowing.”

Moore says going to the police to get a permit for the parade was also a big hurdle.

“It was work for us. The big fear was that people would be naked on floats going down Baker. We spent a lot of time with the police chief putting him at ease. It was all about education.”

And it took a lot of convincing to get the parade on a Saturday rather than a Sunday. At that time few stores were open on Sundays.

They did not convince city council to approve a banner the first year. The second year, permission came with a lot of debate and controversy.

When the parade finally happened, the organizers were overwhelmed.

“It was amazing,” Moore said. “The straight community really came out in droves and walked with us. Some gays and lesbians were covered completely so no one would know who they were. There were people who called me on the phone and said I’m too scared to come, but I will stand on the side.

“Then I saw some of them on the side and they stepped into the parade.

“The streets were totally lined with support. The parade was not as large as now, I’m not sure if we had a float, but we had bikes and motorcycles in the front. The tradition is dykes on bikes that lead the parade.

“We had a dance at Taghum Hall and we had some people come and threaten us at the dance who said they were Aryan Nations.

“We called the RCMP and it took them two-and-a-half hours to come. In the meantime all of us held hands and made a complete circle around the hall and eventually they went away. It was scary. One of them told me they had a gun.”

Moore commented that it’s called the Pride Parade now, and the word “gay” has been taken out, not only in Nelson but in many communities.

“It is like we are whitewashing it completely, and forgetting that it is gay and lesbian and trans people. I don’t agree with taking that word out. I am not sure ‘gay’ is the right word, and yes it is inclusive without it, but we also need to say who we are.”

Moore said that he is pleased that there is relative acceptance now, but he said it can distract from problems that still exist.

“In our local schools you still hear ‘faggot’ and ‘that’s so gay,’ and we still have trans people in town that people in pickup trucks yell at.

“One thing that has not changed is that LGBT youth still have the highest rate of suicide in our country and we need to look at that.”

Kootenay Pride 2015, Tamara Hynd photo

 

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