Only a few short years ago, Michelle McHale had a clear message for her same-sex partner: “I’m not ashamed by our relationship, but I’m not going to run down the street carrying a rainbow flag.”
This is the same Michelle McHale who led as many as 5,000 colourfully-clad, rainbow flag-carrying revelers down Reimer Avenue in Steinbach for the town’s inaugural Pride march in July. An irony not lost on the Pride Steinbach organizer.
“There’s something inside of me… If there’s an issue of justice, I can’t not do something about it,” says the U of M department of labour studies student.
It’s good that McHale didn’t not do something. What was originally supposed to be a relatively small affair—an effort to publicly support Steinbach’s LGBTTQI* community who had essentially been snubbed by the town’s elected leaders and community at large— became much more. Much, much more.
“I was standing in [E.A. Friesen Park] and it was this beautiful vibrant green, and all these people started to arrive in these gorgeous colours, and they just kept coming and coming,” says McHale. “And then when I heard that traffic was backed up all the way to Ste. Anne [18 kilometres away], I got tears. It was overwhelming.”
Many who attended the march—Pride veterans and supporters from as far away as Toronto, Vancouver and Orlando—called it one of the most authentic, emotional and meaningful Pride celebrations they had ever experienced.
Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted his support, adding a #loveislove hashtag. (See the Prime Minister’s thoughts on Pride)
“When you see that kind of outpouring of support, to have people standing up for you, literally walking beside you, to say what’s happening here is not okay and there’s a better way and a better day coming. The power of that is incredible,” says McHale.
The experience has been cathartic for Steinbach, its LGBTTQI* community and McHale herself who is hoping to one day study law with a human rights focus. “People felt comfortable, heard, affirmed and acknowledged, and that’s part of what human rights is all about.”