EDMONTON -- When the Edmonton Pride Festival was cancelled in 2019, it sent shockwaves through the local LGBTQ2S+ community.

Now, the queer community faces a second year without a city-wide Pride due to the global pandemic, which is no less devastating, some say.

But whether 2021 is a third consecutive Prideless year in Alberta's capital city remains to be seen.

The possibility it could be is troubling to members of the community.

"If we start thinking Pride will never happen, then all of us will lose," Christy Garland, a transgender advocate and drag performer, told CTV News Edmonton.

"I don’t think we should let that happen. We’ll just become more invisible."

Basel Abou Hamrah sees it this way: “If it didn’t happen, that means there is more work (that) should be done.”

Abou Hamrah helps queer refugees and immigrants navigate settling in Edmonton, as he had to five years ago after fleeing Syria.

He describes his first Pride ever, in the capital city, as a revelatory experience that would inspire him to take part in the next parade with a queer newcomers club he helped found.

“It was very beautiful moment for me. I felt welcomed, loved and like here I can be who I am.”

In the years since, he's heard the event wasn't as inclusive to others as it was to him.

That he doesn't know that from experience isn't the point.

"Because they felt that, I should believe it, right?” Abou Hamrah says.

Everyone who spoke to CTV News Edmonton agrees there's a duty in a future Pride to better represent those marginalized by the community itself: queer and trans Black, Indigenous, people of colour (QTBIPOC or BIPOC). 

But RaricaNow, a group that interrupted the parade two years ago demanding that representation and other supports, doesn't feel they have been heard. And a staff member of the organizing Pride society says the push for change, pre-empted by the protest, was unorganized and unreasonable.

Those in the community have watched as conversations about systemic issues in the Pride society turned heated and eventually disintegrated, throwing into question if, how or when Whyte Avenue would be flooded by thousands of proud LGBTQ2S+ members and allies again.


The Edmonton Pride Festival Society still exists legally, but it's not known if the board has met since April 2019 after announcing that year's parade had been called off "in light of the current political and social environment."

The cancellation followed a nearly year-long failure to reach a compromise between the Pride society and RaricaNow and Shades of Colour.

Things culminated days before the society announced the 2019 cancellation at a membership meeting where non-members were locked out and police were called.

Locked outside, too, however, along with members of RaricaNow and Shades of Colour, was Boyd Whiskeyjack, who had marched as a grand marshal the year before and joined the board shortly after.

Whiskeyjack told CTV News Edmonton they hadn’t originally considered the society festival as lacking representation, but, as others stepped down, was left as the only person of colour as a two-spirited Indigenous person from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation.

"I didn’t like how treated that day. I was part of the Pride festival board and they were locking the only person of colour out with the rest of the community, basically. And I started to see their actions were very exclusionary," Whiskeyjack recalled.

The tension was evident to even those who weren’t directly involved.

"As time went on, and you only heard about the stunted progress between Shades of Colour and RaricaNow and the Pride committee, you sort’ve lost hope because you could see it coming," Garland recalled.

“It was a why-can’t-we-figure-this-out kind of disappointment."

RaricaNow and Shades of Colour organized the handfuls of protestors who stopped the 2018 parade and produced its committee a list of demands; among them, the exclusion of police and military in the parade and increased inclusion at the event and on its board.

While Shades of Colour did not respond to CTV News Edmonton's request for comment, RaricaNow did.

Founder Adebayo Katiiti (who also goes by Chris) says the breakdown started about one week before Pride 2018 when his group was told police would march in the parade out of uniform.

He called it a reneging of a promise to exclude law enforcement and military, which he believed had been a condition of his agreement to be one of the Pride marshals.

Katiiti felt there was no other option: “The protest is the language people hear."

One person from the 2018 EPFS staff and board responded, but wasn't willing to have comments attributed to them for this story.

Of the stalemate Katiiti said, "They were very good listeners… But then they were also not acting. But also they were acting in favour of their white Pride."


“My first parade was 1997. And certainly, there’s always been parades in June every year since. Until last year, and now this year," Rob Browatzke, co-owner of the city's gay bar Evolution Wonderlounge, told CTV News Edmonton during a phone interview early in the month.

"Maybe that’s fine. Maybe that’s a sign that what the festival has been in the past needs to not happen anymore."

He noted, anyway, that by then – June 2 – social media channels which would have otherwise been flooded with rainbows were colourless for #BlackoutTuesday. The online show of solidarity was organized in observance of inequality in the music industry, and quickly embraced by Black Lives Matter supporters.

By June 2, thousands had rallied in protest of the murder of a Black Minneapolis man, George Floyd.

Floyd's last minutes were spent beneath the knee of police officer Derek Chauvin, who later would be charged with second-degree murder and whose three colleagues would be charged with aiding and abetting in second-degree murder.

"The need for a parade doesn’t seem as pressing as it did even 10 days ago," Browatzke said.

“It’s always been about there’s no justice until there’s justice for everybody. The fight isn’t over just because we’ve ticked off the box for things like gay marriage, and we’ve ticked off the box for GSAs and we’re ticking off a box against conversion therapy. There are so many battles for so many more communities. And until we’re all on an equal footing, the fight does not end.”

Protestors have carried signs with some of Floyd's last words, "I can't breathe," his name, and the names of other Black Americans killed in recent weeks, including Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Rayshard Brooks' name would join theirs after the Black Atlanta resident was shot by police in a Wendy's parking lot in a confrontation during a sobriety check.

And tens of thousands more would rally not just across the U.S. but around the world in the coming days. On June 12, more than 10,000 people gathered at the Alberta legislature.

Garland called Floyd's death and the protests a wake-up call.  

"I think I thought I was evolving enough until the last few weeks, and then that was a punch in the gut," she said.

"Our disappointment is not important in not having a parade. What’s important is equality."


However, Katiiti considers the concentration of public outcry on Floyd a continuation of the discrimination trans BIPOC people face.

"I’m not comparing," he told CTV News Edmonton. "But it is really very heartbreaking for the whole world – the entire world – to stand up for the death of a black cisgender person, yet just a few will stand to demonstrate in the same format -- in the same way – in the same way the world is on fire – when it comes to a black transgender person."

Katiiti pointed to the death of Tony McDade, fatally shot on May 27 by Tallahassee, Fla., police. The police department has said McDade, a black transgender man, matched the description of a stabbing suspect and allegedly pointed a gun at the officer, who fired in self-defense.

McDade's death became the third fatal officer-involved shooting in Florida's capital city in two months and the 12th violent death of a transgender or gender non-confirming person in the U.S., ABC reported.

"How can I celebrate when police is marching in Pride with me?" Katiiti asked, speaking about the betrayal he felt in 2018. "And after Pride, a moment, I’m going to be killed? Gunned down?"

There's little data available on violence in Canada toward transgender people. A 2018 Statistics Canada report on police-reported hate crimes only categorized incidents by motivation based on sexual orientation and sex. The first of those two kinds of crimes peaked in 2017, with 204 cases reported by law enforcement. Hate crimes motivated by sex jumped three years in a row, from 12 reported incidents in 2015 to 49 in 2018.

However, Egale reports that 90 per cent of transgender students hear demeaning comments daily or weekly from their peers, and a research project in Ontario found 20 per cent of transgender adults in its survey had been physically or sexually assaulted for being trans.

The RaricaNow leader says he didn't want to see Edmonton Pride cancelled – and was blamed and threatened for his role in the events of 2018 and 2019 – but believes there is a lack of homage to Pride's pioneers: a Black transgender woman, Marsha P Johnson, and her community who resisted the New York City police raids in 1969.

"I do want to celebrate. But I can’t celebrate. Not yet," Katiiti said.

"So with respect, with so much respect for what was done by the elderly LGBTQ folks … right now, it’s for the youth."


Edmonton likely wouldn't have had a 2020 city-wide Pride festival even without COVID-19.

Other board members of the last Edmonton Pride Festival Society could not be reached by CTV News Edmonton, and the group's online presence has been mostly wiped.

Evolution Wonderlounge had been planning another block party like it organized in 2019 after the festival cancellation, but couldn’t continue under public health orders.

On June 13, Fruit Loop broadcast performances from the Starlite Room for a 'Pride at Home' event and that evening the High Level Bridge was lit up in rainbow colours.

Without knowing of any other organizing being done, Doug Hass, a five-year board member of Calgary Pride and new Edmontonian has started the work to create a new organizing committee called Capital Pride Edmonton.

While Hass admitted he didn’t know much about the controversy between groups in Edmonton's LGBTQ2S+ community, his vision for a Pride 2021 is threefold.

"One, we celebrate where our community has come from where it started. … It’s also an opportunity for us to provide place of acceptance for people who might be coming out and having those challenges with family, with friends, to ensure they have a safe place to celebrate who they are, and then I think, three, it’s just making sure we continue to push and fight for rights and equality for people who might not feel we’re there yet,” he told CTV News Edmonton.

Hass is working on finding a fifth signatory for an application to register as an official society. His co-signers are not BIPOC, but he attributed that to a "timing issue" presented by COVID-19, promising the society, once established, would have a diverse board.

He added it was too early to have conversations about police presence at Pride but that it would "be very important to the entire LGBTQ community to know that Pride started as a protest against police raids at the Stonewall Inn in New York, and that was led by trans people of colour."

"We wouldn’t be where we are today without them.”

Browatzke hopes his business – whose future as the city's only gay bar has been threatened by months of zero profits – is around to support a future Pride, but doesn't see it as his place to do the organizing.

Garland and Whiskeyjack echoed this, too.

“White people are being told to listen, so I think people are hesitant to step into board if they're white. And I don’t blame them because it’s out of respect, but also caution. They’re like, 'Well, maybe it’s not my place right now to get on the board,'” Garland said.

Whiskeyjack added it had been disappointing to see in 2018, after the parade interruption, that they were only one of two people of colour to join the Pride board.

"I wasn’t impressed that people would have a protest and not put leaders forward from that community to sit on the board – to make a demand and not follow through with that demand,” they commented.

The community is not without ideas for Pride.

Browatzke suggested Edmonton could see a multitude of events in place of one parade. Katiiti is calling for a protest and vigil to remember lost trans lives. Garland sees a need to return to rallies. Whiskeyjack, who chairs the Edmonton 2 Spirit Society, advocates for two-spirited individuals to lead a beginning prayer to bless the space and honour the First Peoples.

Whiskeyjack also see less need for the parade which the general public has come to consider Pride. Edmonton 2 Spirit Society has submitted a grant application to Women and Gender Equality Canada for money to expand its organization and services to the two-spirit community. But part of the pitch is also to build a local resource-sharing network – a coalition in the Edmonton LGBTQ2S+ community lead by E2S. Whiskeyjack says E2S has the agreement of other key organizations, and the coalition could take over organizing Pride with QTBIPOC at the front, but that the event itself would be just a small part of what it did.  

“Pride is for all, and everyone see the Pride differently, and that shouldn’t be stopping us from having a Pride. That should … give us more ideas about how we can honour this month and that story of the Pride," Abou Hamrah suggested.

"If people find it a celebration, let them celebrate. If people find that as a protest, let them protest.”

The pride he dreams of, Abou Hamrah said, is a celebration of diversity and inclusion, an honoring of history and experience, an effort towards reconciliation, and an amplification of oppressed and marginalized voices.

And it's a small-P pride.

“Pride by itself. I’m not talking about the parade, I’m not talking about the events that’s happened. But generally, everyone celebrating in any way they want. I miss that."