The march was set to begin at 11 a.m. on July 9, 2016. But at the top of the hour, Michelle McHale, whose fight for civil rights in Steinbach recently brought the city into the national spotlight, asked the crowd to indicate by applause whether they would mind “waiting for the folks on the highway,” as traffic was backed up to St. Anne, nearly 20 kilometres out of town. Steinbach’s E.A. Friesen Park erupted with clapping.
Police estimate that as many as 5,000 attended “Steinbach Pride,” the equivalent of a third of the city’s population. LGBTQ members and allies from across the spectrum of creed, culture and denomination came out: Mennonites, Catholics, Quakers and Anglicans; indigenous and settler; civic bodies and humanitarian organizations; various levels of police; and official representatives from at least two national political parties.
Scott Kolody, commanding officer of Manitoba’s RCMP, said he marched in the parade “to celebrate the importance of diversity and inclusion,” accompanied by officers in dress uniform.
Moral objection, if not religion explicitly, has been the single most cited reason for Steinbach’s heavily publicized resistance to Pride. Nevertheless, the rumoured planned protest that many marchers had braced for never materialized. Furthermore, of all the opinion-based pickets and banners visible at the parade, a huge number were religious in tone. None were condemning, and many were clearly affirmative.
Still more encouraging to many was the strong presence of explicitly “Mennonite” signage, including:
• “I love Dycks and dykes.”
• “We want: rollkuchen, somma borscht, zwiebach, kielke, perogies, equality.”
• “Lesbo? Oh ba yo!” (“Oh but yes” in Low German)
• “Homosexuality causes cancer? Na oba!” (“No way” in colloquial Low German)
The last one was carried by Curtis and Patricia Penner of Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach.
They attended the parade, they said, because the church has been on the wrong side of many issues over the years and the last to support positive change. They came to Steinbach to support the local LGBTQ community. While noting a lot of animosity, they said that doesn’t discredit the Pride movement, adding that the Steinbach parade was needed.
Asked whether they thought Jesus would be marching in the parade if he were there that day, the Penners had no reservations: “Absolutely.” “Without a doubt.”
Tyrone Hofer, a member of the latest graduating class of Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg, was a major figure with the media leading up to the parade and during it. Formerly a member of the Hutterite church, Hofer came out as gay to his church and family just over a year ago. Upon his confession, he was excommunicated from his congregation and disowned by his parents.
For a while, Hofer thought this rejection would spell the end of his faith, but with support from affirming friends, LGBTQ YouTube-ers and his biblical/theological education at CMU, Hofer soon reconsidered. “CMU changed my opinion on staying a Christian,” he said. According to him, not all Hutterites are anti-gay. “Many are allied in secret,” he said.
For the parade, Hofer wore a cross pendant flanked on both sides by rainbow bead sequences. The necklace, he said, summarizes his current conviction and his message to young Christians who may be struggling with their sexual identity.
“There is absolutely nothing wrong with you,” he said. “Tell yourself there is nothing wrong with you. Find a circle of supportive people who will help you believe it. Don’t live in fear and self-hatred. You know the truth inside already. . . . Christ is still at the centre of it all.”
Corrected July 19, 2016