Manitobans will take to the streets of a rural town’s first Pride parade Saturday, and while there’s cause for celebration, organizers and community members are also calling out a local pastor who is publicly opposing it.
Pembina Valley Pride published a social media post on Friday encouraging people from the 2SLGBTQ community to take care of themselves, ignore protesters and “celebrate you” ahead of Altona’s first Pride parade on Saturday.
It came on the heels of a blog post by Grace Covenant Church lead pastor Riley Toews, espousing views condemning the celebration.
“It is inflammatory,” Pembina Valley Pride president Peter Wohlgemut said of the blog. “It’s disappointing to hear that sort of thing still.”
Toews, 30, who lives in Gretna, plans to hand out pamphlets at the Altona parade, just as he did in Morden at that community’s first Pride in 2019.
He suggested the core of his message is consistent with that of Christianity.
“The whole question of Pride in general, it’s a celebration of something that the Bible would say is sin,” Toews told CBC News on Friday.
“The main message of the gospel is that Jesus came to die for our sins, to reconcile us to God, and so the way that we receive what Christ has done is by turning from our sin and turning to face him. So, something like Pride is celebrating that which actually separates people from God.”
Wohlgemut said to many in the region, Toews’ blog reinforces stereotypes about the area and local attitudes toward the queer community.
At the same time, Wohlgemut says they know the parade and marchers have the full support of the town of Altona, mayor, leaders of other local churches and many local allies.
That includes Tamara Franz, 56, who has lived in Altona off and on for 23 years. She posted a response calling out Toews’ blog.
Her father was a Mennonite pastor in the community who led with a sense that “everyone is welcome at the table.”
Franz said Toews’ views seem to be coming from a place of fear and justify “shame and social stigma” as a way of deterring people from being who they are.
“I was raised with a very strong sense of social justice so it kind of is in me to rush to the defence of people when I feel that they are under attack,” she said.
“Using scripture verses as a basis for condemning the Pride celebration, expressing concern it would lead community into sin … I just felt there was a level of condemnation that was extremely harmful.”
Another ally in Altona, Leandra Martin, 24, also responded to the blog with a post of her own. She says the pastor’s comments are judgmental, whether or not he believes “they come from a place of love.”
“I did feel upset by it,” she said. “I just felt like it was putting a lot of negative connotations out there toward people of the LGBTQ community and I just don’t want people to feel guilty and shame for who they are.”
Martin has lived most of her live in Gretna and Altona. She wants Toews and those who sympathize with his views to consider the impact they have on 2SLGBTQ people, including youth.
“I have friends and family that have come out and I have seen the effects of when they feel bullied or shamed…. It can really, really, badly affect people’s mental health and that’s part of the reason why his post has caused outrage,” she said.
“It can be dangerous to spread a message like the one he is spreading.”
Greg Klassen was a proud member of his Altona church when he came out nearly four decades ago, but not everyone was comfortable with his identity. Feeling like he didn’t belong, Klassen left the church and choir.
“Growing up as a Mennonite kid … you feel like you’re the only gay person,” he said. “Sadly I don’t think they’ve changed as much as we’d like to believe they have.”
In light of his experience and the pastor’s blog, Klassen has been asked to speak at the parade Saturday.
Information Radio – MB7:52He left his church choir and gave up singing because of his sexual identity. Decades later, he doesn’t want others to make that mistake
“I am feeling really happy to go back to Altona as a proud gay man,” he said. “I think it’s great that they’re doing this … really important, particularly for queer youth to be represented and to know that the community cares about creating safe spaces for them and a place they can flourish.”
Wohlgemut says the parade has been a lot of work, but seeing everyone will all be worth it.
“We’re in this together, there is a lot of support. Those stereotypes that a lot of people carry about our area here, those are breaking down…. This whole Pembina Valley is becoming more and more diverse and it’s a wonderful thing.”
The Altona parade starts at 1 p.m.
Up To Speed6:36Online posts causing unease ahead of Pembina Valley Pride parade.
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