Abbotsford’s first ever Fraser Valley Pride event drew a crowd of about 500 people on Saturday, surprising many attendees and organizers with the high level of community support.
Benz Friesen attended the event with her grandmother Debby, who came for support. They were both thrilled with the turnout.
“I’m really happy, and a little surprised actually,” said Benz. “I didn’t think there would be this many people.”
Debby said the turnout by the community was impressive.
“I’m proud of Abbotsford… I think Abbotsford has finally hit the 20th century.”
The Fraser Valley Youth Society (FVYS) organized the event. For the past five years, they have held a “Walk Away From Homophobia,” but this year decided to change the walk into a pride event, which John Kuipers – program co-ordinator for FVYS – said was to create a more celebratory and positive attitude.
The event started with a march, beginning at 3 p.m. at the Matsqui Recreation Centre. The group walked south on Clearbrook Road, down South Fraser Way, and ended at the Civic Plaza.
Participants in the march waved signs and flags to the passing cars, and many of the drivers responded with waves and honks.
Debby said she was happy to see drivers and passersby be supportive, and was pleased by the lack of any protest at the event. She hopes the success of the pride event sends a message to Abbotsford about loving and supporting the LGBTQ community.
“I hope it changes people’s perspective and we learn to love all people no matter what.”
Adam Roper, a volunteer with FVYS, said they were very pleased with the turnout.
“It turned out better than we thought. We were expecting a small, 150 person event like last year.”
The march was followed by a barbecue at the plaza, with speeches by community members, volunteers and youth.
Mayor Bruce Banman spoke to the crowd, saying that it was a great example of a community gathering and an opportunity for more awareness of diversity in Abbotsford.
“All members of our community need to feel safe and secure.”
Banman told The News that he was happy to see so many supportive community members, and that there was no protest or intolerance at the event.
“I think there is more than enough hate in the world to go around, and it’s nice to see this much love for our fellow man.”
Roper said that overall, the event had been a success.
“It shows that there is a queer community in Abbotsford and a population of supporters.”
He said now that the queer community and its allies have shown their presence in Abbotsford, he hopes more businesses, churches and community groups will also extend support to the LGBTQ community.
For more information about FVYS and the Fraser Valley Pride event, visit www.fraseryouth.com.