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Foothills groups sign UCP Pride ban, applaud Okotoks as progressive

Pride in Okotoks has seen major progress over the years, says Marissa Johnston, founder of Foothills Rainbow Collective.

United Conservative Party of Alberta politicians are barred from upcoming Pride events, according to a letter co-signed by 14 of the province's Pride organizations, including two groups in the Okotoks area. 

"This is a direct response to Premier Danielle Smith’s stated intention to infringe on the rights, freedoms, and healthcare of the transgender community in Alberta," reads the letter published on the Queer Citizens United Facebook page on May 17.

The UCP's proposed policies — including banning gender reassignment surgery for those 17 and under and requiring parental consent for those 15 and under to change their names and pronouns at school — have been the subject of much controversy throughout Alberta since they were announced in February.

The letter was backed by two local groups — Okotoks Pride and Foothills Rainbow Collective.

"We are affirming our stance on that, and we do think that celebrating with people in June and then attacking them in September is a rhetoric that the larger queer community can't afford to stand anymore," said Marissa Angel Johnston, founder of Foothills Rainbow Collective.

Outside of the Foothills, the letter's signatories include Banff Pride, Calgary Pride, Canmore Pride, Central Alberta Pride Society, Fort Sask Pride, HOMES, Jasper Pride, Lacombe Pride, Lethbridge Pride, Pride Corner (Edmonton), Queer Alberta Safety Net and Red Deer Queer CA.

"I think that our hometowns need to be known as a safe place and I think that there was a marked lack of that in all Pride organizations, which I think the community should examine," said Johnston.

Highwood MLA RJ Sigurdson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Johnston, who organized Okotoks' first Pride in the Park event in 2017, said LGBTQ acceptance has seen major progress in Okotoks.

"I haven't gotten death threats in years," she said. "During the first [Pride in the Park in 2017], we had to coordinate with protective services, not because of safety to the park, but because of safety to myself and my dog."

Since then, the number of Pride events hosted in Okotoks has been on the upswing and "the town has come so far," according to Johnston.

"With this new leadership with the Town, I think we are in a very unique place," she added. "We have a very open-minded governance group, so I I think it's astronomically improved, and I think that that can only continue to go up as long as we keep the conversation going."

The Town of Okotoks is hosting its 2024 Pride Foothills Wide celebrations at the start of June, including a flag raising on June 2 and a street festival on June 8. 

Okotoks Pride, of which Johnston is also a member, is on hiatus as of May 13. Pride groups including Foothills Rainbow Collective, True Colors Rainbow Alliance, High River Pride and All Ages Drag, which hosts an annual Mother's Day picnic for the LBGTQ community in Okotoks, will continue operations. 

Amir Said

About the Author: Amir Said

Amir Said is a reporter and photographer with the Western Wheel covering local news in Okotoks and Foothills County. For story tips or questions about his articles, Amir can be reached at [email protected].
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