Organizers and allies call out pastor’s anti-2SLGBTQ views as Altona gears up for 1st Pride Parade

Manitobans will take to the streets in the first Rural Town Pride Parade on Saturday, and while there is reason to celebrate, organizers and some community members are also calling out a local pastor who publicly opposes it.

Pembina Valley Pride posted a social media message Friday encouraging members of the 2SLGBTQ community to take care of themselves, ignore protesters, and “celebrate you” ahead of Altona’s first Pride Parade on Saturday.

This followed a blog post by Grace Covenant Church senior pastor Riley Toews espousing views condemning the celebration.

“It’s incendiary,” Pembina Valley Pride President Peter Wohlgemut said of the blog. “It’s disappointing to hear this stuff again.”

Toews, 30, who lives in Gretna, plans to hand out flyers at the Altona parade, just like he did at Morden at this community’s first Pride in 2019.

He suggested that 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.

Riley Toews hands out pamphlets about God and homosexuality at Morden’s first Pride Parade of 2019. (Radio Canada)

“The main message of the gospel is that Jesus came to die for our sins, to reconcile us to God, and so the way we receive what Christ has done is by turning away from our sin and turning to Him. So something like Pride celebrates what really separates people from God.”

Wohlgemut told many people in the area that Toews’ blog reinforces stereotypes about the area and local attitudes towards the queer community.

At the same time, Wohlgemut says they know the parade and the marchers have the full support of the city of Altona, the mayor, leaders of other local churches and many local allies.

That includes Tamara Franz, 56, who has lived in Altona on and off for 23 years. She posted a response calling out Toews’ blog.

His father was a Mennonite pastor in the community who led with the feeling that “everyone is welcome at the table”.

Franz said Toews’ views seem to come from a place of fear and warrant “shame and social stigma” as a way to deter people from being who they are.

“I was raised with a very strong sense of social justice, so it’s in me to jump to people’s defense when I feel they are being attacked,” she said.

“Using scripture verses as a basis for condemning the celebration of pride, expressing fear that it would lead the community into sin…I just felt there was a level of condemnation that was extremely damaging.”

According to Tamara Franz, despite the pastor’s stated intent, his message has the effect of shaming 2SLGBTQ people. (Submitted by Tamara Franz)

Another Altona ally, Leandra Martin, 24, also responded to the blog with her own post. She says the pastor’s comments are judgmental whether or not he thinks “they come from a place of love.”

“I felt overwhelmed by it,” she said. “I just felt like it put a lot of negative connotations towards people in the LGBTQ community and I just don’t want people to feel guilty and ashamed of who they are.”

Martin has lived most of his life in Gretna and Altona. She wants Toews and those who sympathize with her views to consider the impact they have on 2SLGBTQ people, including youth.

“I have friends and family who have come out and seen the effects of when they feel intimidated or ashamed… It can really, really take a toll on people’s mental health and that’s in part of why his post caused outrage,” she said.

“It can be dangerous to broadcast a message like the one he is broadcasting.”

Greg Klassen was a proud member of his Altona church when he stepped out nearly four decades ago, but not everyone was comfortable with his identity. Feeling out of place, Klassen left the church and the choir.

“Growing up as a Mennonite kid…you feel like you’re the only gay person,” he said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ve changed as much as we’d like to believe.”

In light of his experience and the pastor’s blog, Klassen was asked to speak at Saturday’s parade.

News Radio – MB7:52He quit his church choir and gave up singing because of his sexual identity. Decades later, he doesn’t want others to make that mistake

Host Marcy Markusa chats with Greg Klassen at the first-ever Pride Parade in Altona.

“I feel really happy to be returning to Altona as a proud gay man,” he said. “I think it’s great that they’re doing this…really important, especially so that young queer people are represented and know that the community cares about creating safe spaces for them and a place where they can thrive. “

Wohlgemut says the parade took a lot of work, but seeing everyone will be worth it.

“We’re in this together, there’s a lot of support. These stereotypes that a lot of people have in our area here, they’re falling apart… This whole Pembina Valley is getting more and more diverse and it’s a wonderful thing.”

Up to speed6:36Posts online causing unease ahead of the Pembina Valley Pride Parade.

Residents of the Pembina Valley are gearing up for the first-ever Pride Parade in Altona, but it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows leading up to the event. Faith Fundal spoke with the President of Pembina Valley Pride ahead of this weekend’s festivities.

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