Winnipegger attending 1st Pride festival after realizing during pandemic she’s a lesbian

It took the forced isolation of the pandemic to help Lauren Toews come to the realization that she was a lesbian.

“I think like a lot of people, the pandemic was one of the first times I was just forced to stop,” she said in an interview with Faith Fundal on CBC Manitoba’s morning show, Information Radio.

“I didn’t really have a lot else to do, but think about my life and re-evaluate and kind of come to the conclusion that I hadn’t really been doing things the way I wanted to. I just had been kind of following a predetermined script that I didn’t realize at the time.”

Now in her 30s, the Winnipeg massage therapist will be attending the Pride festival for the first time.

The festival kicked off Friday with the raising of the Pride flag at Winnipeg City Hall.

For Carolyn Welsh, the raising of the flag represents hope.

“I’m a grandmother. I’m a great-grandmother. I would want my children, my grandchild, my great-grandchildren to be accepted for who they are,” said Welsh, who attended the ceremony on Friday.

Toews says she had always been attracted to women, but attributed those feelings to an appreciation for women, rather than romantic interest. Once she started to accept them, everything changed, she said.

“Immediately I was like, ‘This is how it’s supposed to be.’ This excitement to date, rather than terrified of going on dates and just completely different.”

The flag-raising ceremony is now an annual tradition attended by Mayor Brian Bowman and other city officials, but it wasn’t always so.

“The first Pride, I think, back in 1987, was attended by people who wore paper bags on their heads, because they were afraid of losing their jobs, of losing their careers, of being outed to their families and being ostracized,” said Trevor Doner.

“And really, 1987 is not that long ago.”

This year marks 35 years since the first Pride march in Winnipeg.

Although there has been progress in the decades since, the struggle is not over, Doner said.

“There’s still a lot of rights and recognition to be won for lots of different members of our community.”

Members of Winnipeg city council and volunteers with Pride Winnipeg raise the Pride flag in a ceremony at city hall on Friday. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

Welsh came out as a lesbian when she was in her 40s. She was outed to her employer in 1999, who told her that had it been known when they hired her, they might not have given her the job, she said.

“We think we’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go,” she said.

This will be the last Pride festival of Bowman’s time as mayor of Winnipeg, he said in a speech at the ceremony.

He spoke about the work the city has done to create a culture of inclusivity, such as the creation of a human rights committee of the council and an LGBTQ employee resource group.

“The hospitality and the generosity that many of you have provided to myself and to our family has really made me feel welcomed, and I just hope that each of you feel that same warmth and sense of belonging in our community and the city that we all call home each and every day,” Bowman said.

The festival has more than 50 events throughout the week, culminating in the annual Pride parade on June 5.

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