There was a large show of love on the streets of the southeastern Manitoba city of Steinbach today. But just like last year, the city’s mayor was absent.

Steinbach held its second annual Pride parade Saturday afternoon. Last year, the city’s first Pride event made national headlines when several local politicians declined to attend and organizers struggled to get a permit.

One year later, the scene was just as jubilant, although a little quieter than last year, as more than 1,000 people from across the province marched in a show of unity and acceptance. The RCMP estimated that 3,000 people attended in 2016.

“There is still a lot of homophobia here,” 18-year-old Mika Lynn told CTV Winnipeg.

Lynn, who grew up in Steinbach, says she struggles with mental illness, partly because of her experience coming out. Even today, she said, she would feel nervous going on a date with another woman in public in what she calls her “church-based community.”

“This is the one place where I feel totally accepted,” she said of the parade. “Even if it is an hour.”

Steinbach Pride co-chair Michelle McHale says a letter was sent to Steinbach Mayor Chris Goertzen inviting him to join the event. According to McHale, she never received a reply — something that the mayor’s office denies.

For the second year running, McHale added, the city failed to officially endorse the event.

“Anybody (who) holds a position where they were elected in this area, I think they need to know that your presence makes a difference,” McHale said.

In a written statement, Steinbach’s mayor defended his decision not to attend.

“(A)cceptance includes those in the 2STLGBQ* community and it includes those who have differing viewpoints who also deserve respect and understanding,” Goertzen said.

“Although as Mayor, I will not be attending this year’s event, I will continue to concentrate my efforts on promoting an inclusive attitude that respects differences in our city throughout the year.”

Even with these difficulties, organizers were proud of the turnout. Marchers, moreover, told CTV Winnipeg that since the first parade, there’s been a palpable change in the city.

“We’ve been around this area for a couple of years now,” participant Ray Wong said. “We definitely see the progressiveness coming.”

Kelly Houle, who identifies as two-spirited, marched in a resplendent tasseled rainbow outfit.

“I think it’s really open everywhere now,” Houle said of the community. “Everyone’s opening their eyes, their minds and accepting everyone.”

From the scene, retired United Church Pastor George Feenstra said that he enjoys the joyful ambiance of Pride and that it’s time to support everyone’s rights and celebrate people for who they really are.

But he said that not everyone in his community is as accepting.

“They’re grabbing hold of some things to hold onto real tight,” he said. “And one of those things they hold onto is that the problem of the world is caused by homosexuals.”

With a report from CTV Winnipeg’s Beth Macdonell

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