Prairie communities are beautiful and complicated

Guest blog written by Bre Woligroski, Program Coordinator, SERC

June is International Pride month, and as usual, Manitoba expands the party into five months of festivities across the province. This year events were hosted by Portage la Prairie, Steinbach, Flin Flon (Pride North of 55), Brandon, Morden, Winnipeg, and Riding Mountain National Park.

The Manitoba town I grew up in was small, proud and strong. I loved the freedom it offered me and my brothers, and the support and connections we felt from other families planted around us. After high school, I moved to an even smaller prairie town to study at a rural Manitoba college. At this school, beautifully located in the middle of a cornfield, I was surrounded by endless fields of yellow, a horizon that didn’t end, and a community which fiercely supported each other yet quite aggressively discouraged sexual diversity.

It was all very confusing.

It is a strange thing to be in the midst of a community of such love and support, but also feeling lonely and rejected and shrouded in a secret I couldn’t speak of. Many smaller communities take pride in their ability to foster connections, support and familiarity among neighbors, but these very aspects of smaller communities can feel threatening to 2SLGBTQ+ residents who experience the risk or realities of social backlash and even violence.  Privacy is more difficult when your doctor is your neighbor, is your school trustee, is the chair of the Church board. Stigma and misunderstanding about queer identities still exist, and the stakes feel higher in small communities, where there are so fewer places to hide.

I had the privilege of attending the Pride festival in Portage la Prairie this year, and I marched alongside hundreds of 2SLGBTQ+ residents and allies down the streets of this vibrant town. Portage has become a second home to me recently, and the opportunity to connect with others and celebrate the diversity of the community was exciting and meaningful. The city hosted its first ever Pride church service, which was well attended and widely praised. The Pride social was nearly at capacity.

Pride is sweeping across the prairies, slowly and steadily. Morden welcomed its first Pride events this year, an opportunity for a city famous for its hospitality to fully support the diversity of its community. The Steinbach, Flin Flon, Riding Mountain and Brandon Pride festivities have been going strong for a number of years.

Prairie communities are strong, and are become stronger by celebrating and supporting their intricate social diversity. Communities with histories of fear and misunderstanding toward their 2SLGBTQ+ residents are slowly transforming into communities of support.

This is an exciting time for Manitoba. I can’t wait to see the list of communities hosting Pride events in 2020.