‘This is why we need Pride,’ Pembina Valley Pride president says after food truck receives vandalism threats

Three food trucks have withdrawn from Pride events in a town in southern Manitoba after receiving threats of vandalism, the president of Pembina Valley Pride says.

One of the food truck owners who planned to be at Pride in Altona’s Centennial Park this Saturday received online threats that the vehicle would be vandalized with graffiti, Pauline Emerson-Froebe told CBC on Wednesday.

The threats came shortly after the volunteer-led organization posted a list of participating food trucks on its social media accounts earlier in the week, said Emerson-Froebe, the president of Pembina Valley Pride.

“It’s an intimidation tactic and it’s threatening their livelihood,” she said.

The food truck owner didn’t want to risk the possibility vandalism would require a major cleanup and cause a delay that would affect participation at upcoming festivals.

When the other food truck owners heard about the threat, they also backed out.

The exterior of a church with rainbow coloured ribbons taped along two columns by the entrance.
The Pride decorations at St Paul’s United Church in Morden, Man., were also torn down shortly after they went up earlier this week. This photo is from last year before decorations were torn down. (Submitted by Carrie Martens)

The fourth annual Pride rally and march in the Pembina Valley — which includes Altona, Carman, Manitou, Morden, Morris, Pilot Mound and Winkler — and the first year food trucks and vendors planned to participate in the day’s celebratory events.

However, this is not the first time the organization has seen threats or intimidation used, Emerson-Froebe said.

Similar to last June, Pride flags have been stolen from people’s backyards in Altona, Morden and Winkler, she said.

St. Paul’s United Church in Morden had its rainbow ribbons, which are wrapped around two pillars, ripped off for the second consecutive year, she said.

So far, there have been no Pride flags torn down in Carmen this June, but Emerson-Froebe said they’ve had to replace about half a dozen around the town in the past nine months.

“This happens every year, it seems, be it that somebody threatens online that they’re going to drive their truck through the parade,” she said.

“We’ve had to deal with these situations since we started having the Pride celebrations in 2019.”

Red, purple, yellow and green plastic ribbons are crumpled in a ball on the ground.
Rainbow-coloured decorations outside St Paul’s United Church in Morden were torn down and thrown in the street during Pride Month last year. The same decorations were torn down again this year. (Submitted by Carrie Martens)

Last year, a van in Winkler was spray-painted with a homophobic slur during Pride month.

Steven Fontaine, whose drag persona Zamarah Dee is among 10 drag queens performing in Altona, said he also has been threatened.

He told Up to Speed radio host Faith Fundal that he logged into his Instagram account to find messages from someone telling him to kill himself.

Another message called him a pedophile.

“Only because I want to bring the art of drag to a community that needs it more than ever,” Fontaine said.

People walk in a Pride parade while carrying signs.
United Church groups in the Pembina Valley show their support as they march in Morden’s first Pride parade in June 2023. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Fontaine said he’s received messages with threats and hate speech “many times,” and while it’s disheartening, it’s never stopped him from performing drag because smaller communities in southern Manitoba need to see more 2SLGBTQ+ representation.

“It really encourages me to go out there and use my platform, because drag performers are known as being the soldiers of the gay community, and I wear that with pride.”

The threats have been reported to Altona police, who will help at the march. Pembina Valley Pride has also hired private security.

“We’ve seen the same post that everyone else is seeing, where comments were made to the owner of a food truck,” Altona police Chief Dan Defer said.

Defer did not know which company was threatened, but if food trucks decided to be at the march after all, they would be provided safety, like any other participant, he said.

Altona police have not received any other complaints regarding vandalism, which is “not a common crime in this community,” Defer said.

Altona Mayor Harv Schroeder said in an emailed statement on Wednesday that the town “is committed to being a safe and welcoming place for everyone, regardless of their background or identities. Hate speech and threats of violence have no place in our community.”

Emerson-Froebe said even though there are battles as they approach the day, the celebration of Pride is full of joy.

“Everybody’s so happy, and who doesn’t want to be around a whole group of happy people? I mean, it’s infectious to be around that,” Emerson-Froebe said. “This is why we need Pride.”