SHOWING PRIDE - Joel Graham and Serge Gingras of the Central Alberta Pride Society hold up a Pride flag at Bower Ponds where Pride Week celebrations will kick off on Aug. 13th. Carlie Connolly/Red Deer Express

Central Alberta Pride Week to kick off at Bower Ponds

Unveiling of rainbow crosswalk in downtown Red Deer this morning

Central Alberta Pride Week kicks off Sunday, Aug. 13th followed by an action-packed week of over 13 events, celebrating diversity and encouraging inclusion.

“We are kicking off Pride Week with Pride in the Park right here at Bower Ponds on Sunday, August 13th. We have seven hours of live entertainment on the Bower Ponds stage. We’ve got food trucks, bouncy castles for kids and adults as well as beer gardens, and we also will have a little merchandise village of just local community organizations that will be represented as well as some Pride merchandise,” said Joel Graham, a board member on Central Alberta Pride Society and events planner for Pride Week.

Central Alberta Pride Week, presented by Central Alberta Pride Society (CAPS), is in its fifth year, starting out as a very grassroots event with just a barbecue in a public park.

Graham said over the years it has slowly grown.

“Last year we knocked it out of the park with an extremely successful, well-branded, well-advertised event and we grew on last year to make this year even bigger and better than what we’ve done in the past,” he said.

For years one through four, the mayor’s proclamation took place at City Hall Park, with crowds growing from 50 to 100 to last year’s over 300 count.

This year marks Graham’s second year of involvement with the Society, along with fellow participant Serge Gingras, the chair of the Society.

“My reason for joining the Society was to help create community. There isn’t a lot of LGBTQ plus community happening in Red Deer, especially with the modern day social media and some of the dating apps,” said Graham, adding that they have some dating apps that are exclusive to their community.

He said he wanted to bring that community and networking back to what it needs to be.

For Gingras, who’s been in Red Deer over 30 years, his involvement in Pride events mainly started off when he was teaching at Red Deer College.

This, too, is his second year being involved.

He said there were some attempts to create some kind of association, but the community was small at the time, making it difficult. He said there was a need and desire, particularly for students, to start getting together.

“Some students would come to me and ask if there was a group that would get together, so that’s how Pride on Campus started,” said Gingras, adding that it was a student group.

Because it was a student group, the only way for Gingras to get involved was as a faculty advisor, so he would help students in the group navigate through the college system, help them to find resources and support them in their various activities.

“Pride Week came from that desire as a community to gather and be together, and this kind of activity also gives permission to people who want to come out but are not sure, so it becomes a safe place for them to initially make connections with the community and establish friendships and networks through that,” said Gingras.

He said what he likes about where the Society is going now is that they’ve broadened their scope and have started having conversations with places like the Golden Circle, Alberta Health Services and schools.

Graham said overall, Pride Week has been a really great experience and that the response is generally positive towards the LGBTQ community.

“Being a minority in the community, you expect that people are going to treat you like a minority, but we actually didn’t have a lot of the pretenses that we figured we’d be running into.

The City has been quite receptive in allowing us to do what we want to do. The corporate community has also been very receptive,” he said.

He said big sponsors like TD Canada Trust has kept coming back year after year, along with other organizations wanting to help offer their support.

Gingras said the last couple of years have seen more positive than negative thoughts towards the LGBTQ community.

“I have felt myself and Pride as an organization very welcome in different circles in the community. I’m thinking particularly the Welcoming Inclusive Communities Network,” he said.

The Network gathers people who deal with racism, discrimination and more, and Gingras said he finds that often there is a desire to help and support, but people just don’t have the tools and knowledge or don’t know how to, which becomes part of the conversation.

“We’re not going to change the world all at once, but it’s baby steps. It’s one conversation here and one connection there and that makes it all possible and even more positive,” said Gingras.

Pride in the Park will take place at Bower Ponds Aug. 13th from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The other big Pride event is the Drag Show and Dance at the Sheraton Hotel Aug. 19th. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Many other Pride events will be taking place throughout the City from Aug. 13th to Aug. 20th.

For more information on events, visit centralalbertapride.ca.

carlie.connolly@reddeerexpress.com