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Danny Evans, 55, remembers the stigma that came with marching in the first Pride Parade ever held on P.E.I. during the 1980s.
Evans, a self-described “female illusionist’’ who also goes by the name Amber Flames, can even remember what he was wearing in the very first organized parade in the summer of 1994, a patent leather mermaid evening gown.
“It was very small,’’ the Charlottetown hairstylist says of that first parade. “There might have been 25 people and there was nobody on the sidewalks watching. We just went with the cars.
The police didn’t block off any of the streets and we were just there.’’
Pride P.E.I. will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its first organized parade on Saturday, July 27. Pride Week itself begins Saturday, July 20 and wraps up Wednesday, July 31.
Following are some of the rights the 2SLGBTQIA+ community has fought for and received over the years:
- Open military service since 1992
- Discrimination protections for sexual orientation since 1996
- Discrimination protections for gender expression and gender identity since 2017
- Recognition of same sex marriage since 2005
Evans said there was a lot of fear in the 2SLGBTQIA+ (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual, with the ‘+’ sign referring to inclusive of many other gender and sexual minorities) community at the time about even being caught watching the parade much less participating in it.
“Back on day one there was a ton of stigma. A lot of my gay and lesbian friends wouldn’t go near the parade. They wouldn’t even stand on the sidewalk and watch. They’d walk up the street on the sidewalk (pretending) to look in the store windows so they were sort of showing support by being on the sidewalk but they were pretending (they weren’t there for the parade).’’
Retired Guardian photographer Brian McInnis has been taking pictures at the parade since that first day.
“The first year was in 1994 and that was when . . . this one protester . . . who walked at the end of the parade holding up a sign saying, ‘Gays Will Burn in Hell’,’’ McInnis said. “The first few years they were kind of concerned because there was the occasional object thrown at them (but) no one was hurt.
“I also remember the nervousness. There were people who I knew were gay . . . who were standing and watching but you could just tell they were nervous. I also remember there were two women (in the parade) and you could tell they were desperately scared people would see them and recognize them.’’
Evans said the original intent of the parade was to show strength and to show that there is an 2SLGBTQIA+ community on P.E.I.
“Now, I think it’s a celebration of the rights that we’ve gained over the years,’’ he said, “and to start to think about what other fights we’ve got to fight, what else we have to get to be considered equal.’’
Evans refers to the fact the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, over the years, has gained the right to marry, to cite one example. He said they are still fighting for transgendered rights and rights for intersexed people.
The battle continues
Following are some of the rights the 2SLGBTQIA+ community is still fighting for:
- The complete elimination of the bans on blood donations by gay men
- Access to health care for transgender people
- A national ban on conversion therapy targeting sexual orientation or gender identity
- Adoption rights for same-sex couples
- Inclusion of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in school curricula
- Support for the epidemic of homeless 2SLGBTQIA+ youth
The parade itself has grown from a couple of dozen participants to hundreds of people. And gone are the days when the public ignored the event. Now, the streets are lined with supporters. It has turned into a cool, trendy thing to take part in.
“There are way more people out on the sidewalks cheering us on as we go by. As myself when I’m at work, I don’t talk to my clients about the fact that I’m gay, it’s just not relevant. But every year around Pride (Week), for the last month now, I’ve had clients come in to work asking me what the heck I’m wearing in the parade.’’
Evans will be going with a jungle theme this year, a costume he’s been working on since Christmas. He’ll also be taking part in the Victoria-By-The-Sea Pride Parade on Monday at noon.
As the Pride Parade grew, so did the corporate support. A variety of businesses now put floats in it, but that doesn’t bother Evans at all.
“There’s nothing wrong with it. It just means the business is supporting any of their staff that is gay, lesbian (or) transgendered. This year, where I work, the boss is even closing the shop so staff can go and watch the parade. That’s never happened before.’’
“We don’t need a parade. We choose to have a parade, and it’s a celebration of what we’ve got and a day to consider what we have to fight for. It’s not that we need it. We choose to have it. If (a bunch) of grandparents want to go to City Hall and say, ‘We want to have a parade in September’, great. Let’s go out and celebrate them.’’
The parade has also grown to include political participation. Charlottetown MP Sean Casey has been taking part since the early days, and Wade MacLauchlan was the first sitting premier to take part. Premier Dennis King will attend this year's parade.
“I don’t think he should be forced to and I don’t think people should expect him to,'' Evans said about King's participation. "It’s a personal choice, but if he’s going to be in the parade (he has to remember) it’s not about him. It’s about us so don’t get up and give a big political speech. That’s not what the parade is about, but that is my opinion.’’
Evans acknowledges there is a section of the community which doesn’t understand why the 2SLGBTQIA+ community needs to have a parade.
“We don’t need a parade,’’ Evans said, emphasizing the word ‘need’. “We choose to have a parade, and it’s a celebration of what we’ve got and a day to consider what we have to fight for. It’s not that we need it. We choose to have it. If (a bunch) of grandparents want to go to City Hall and say, ‘We want to have a parade in September’, great. Let’s go out and celebrate them.’’
McInnis said the kind of strength and determination Evans had in those early days when the 2SLGBTQIA+ community wasn’t as widely accepted as it is today shows the kind of courage people like him have.
“It took a lot of guts to do that in downtown Charlottetown in the early '90s,’’ McInnis said.