Kelowna has come a long way since the first gay pride parade was proposed for the city in the mid-1990s.
Back then, the very through of gays and lesbians proudly parading downtown prompted protesters to show up at city hall, urging the council of the day to say no, some using outrageous props to predict a Sodom and Gomorrah scenario for the city if its residents were exposed a simple parade by other residents.
Some of the protesters even went so far as to show council pictures of leather fetish festivals in San Francisco and one man bizarrely predicted there would be fornication in the streets if such a gay pride parade was allowed in go ahead here.
Thankfully, saner heads prevailed, the parade went ahead and the sky did not fall. Participants, and those who watched, actually had a good time.
That parade has grown over the years into what is now the Okanagan Pride Festival, a gathering that celebrates a growing diversity in this community.
In the words of Okanagan Pride Society president Wilbur Turner, the festival is a celebration, not a protest, and like the myriad of other celebrations by other groups within the community, it deserves support.
Despite his well-known past with the event, Mayor Walter Gray is now a strong supporter of the annual Pride Festival, not only signing a proclamation announcing Pride Week in the city each year, but also showing up at the opening of the festival to publicly read the proclamation.
The city and many individual and corporate donors provide money to help the Okanagan Pride Society stage the event, and for the first time, this year Kelowna Tourism has provided money to help advertise the event outside of the community.
The bottom line is that the Pride festival brings visitors to town. And, like any other visitors, the gay, lesbian and transgendered community likes what Kelowna has to offer—great weather, great amenities like wineries, golf courses and beaches and a host of other recreational offerings.
In a day and age where social barriers are coming down, Kelowna needs to be as welcoming as possible to all.
Of course, there will still be people who are opposed to gays, lesbians and transgendered people celebrating in the community. And for some, no amount of education, arguing or condemnation for their narrow-minded view will change their opinion. But they are on the wrong side of history.
Kelowna, as a community, has shown over the last 15 years, that acceptance, tolerance and, yes, even support, can and should come for those who have been marginalized in society in the past. For an example of that, head to City Park next weekend for a taste of what the Okanagan Pride Festival has to offer.
Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.