Steinbach LGBTQ community and supporters stage flag-raising demonstration at city hall

Members and supporters of the LGBTQ community in a small Manitoba city left a mark at its city hall Sunday, hoping to send a clear and very visible message to local political leaders that they should do more to support them.

The group erected their own flagpoles and flew the rainbow Pride and Transgender Pride flags in the wake of what organizers said was Steinbach city hall’s refusal to fly those flags using the city’s own flagpole. 

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with bringing our own,” community organizer Trevor Kirczenow said in an interview in front of the civic building, just off Main Street in the community’s downtown.

“We certainly have the right to be here,” he said. 

Steinbach, with a population of less than 20,000, is a community with strong Christian roots in a southwestern portion of Manitoba often called the province’s Bible belt. The community hosted its first Pride event in 2016, netting national attention — but none from local politicians of all stripes who failed to turn up to it then or in any other year since, supporters at Sunday’s event said.

“They don’t come, they don’t show up for us,” said Kirczenow. “I hope that someday we will see that, but we’re not waiting — we’re doing this for ourselves right now.”

For Amy Epp, there’s some public support for the queer and transgender community in the city, but a lack of resources or action to increase them.

“It is very difficult to be queer or trans in Steinbach,” said Epp, who is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. “We often feel quite unsupported.”

Discrimination remains in the provision of health care, in education and in political circles, they said. 

What’s needed is a safe space in the form of a drop-in centre for LGBTQ people, to provide mental-health and sex-ed support, Epp said.

Politicians in the community ‘don’t show up for us,’ supporter Trevor Kirczenow said at Sunday’s event. (Thomas Asselin/Radio-Canada)

Taking part in Sunday’s flag-raising, to be followed by a march, was a way to do something about the issues, said Garrett Herst, who is involved with the gay-straight alliance at his local high school.

“We still don’t have social equality, we still don’t have financial equality,” Herst said. “I want to say in 30 years, ‘I did what I could.'”

Manitoba Liberal Party Leader Dougald Lamont was there in support and questioned how political leaders didn’t seem to be representing all people in the community.

“Leaders shouldn’t just be protecting their own, they need to protect people they don’t necessarily [agree] with,” he said. 

CBC News requested comment from the City of Steinbach on Sunday, but had not heard back by publication deadline.

Herst said area politicians appear to be wary of speaking up or showing up or otherwise demonstrating support for LGBTQ people.

“It’s a little disappointing to me that their priorities lie in winning their next election opposed to supporting the community trying to fight for their rights,” Herst said.

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