07/11/2015 11:30 EDT | Updated 07/11/2016 05:59 EDT

Okanagan pride parade names Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran as grand marshal

For the first time in the history of the Okanagan Pride Festival, a Kelowna mayor will be the grand marshal of the annual parade.

"It's really refreshing. What it means to me is that we have full on support from our civic leader," said Wilbur Turner, president of the Okanagan Pride Society.

Former mayor Walter Gray's objection

In 1997, then mayor of Kelowna, Walter Gray, refused to sign a gay and lesbian pride proclamation because he objected to the word "pride" and believed the proclamation would offend many of his constituents.

A human rights complaint was lodged against him, and in 2000 the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal found Gray's actions were discriminatory and "had the effect of a slap in the face." 

Gray responded by refusing to declare city proclamations of any kind.  

In 1999 he was re-elected with more than 95 per cent of the vote and in 2002 he won nearly 88 per cent of the vote. 

Attitude changes since then

In 2005, Sharon Shepherd was elected mayor of Kelowna and signed a pride proclamation for the city, which has been renewed each year since then. 

"Every year there seems to be a little step forward," said Turner.  

Turner says Mayor Basran has been a long-time and vocal supporter of LGBTQ rights and that the society does not take this kind of civic support for granted.  

In a statement, Mayor Basran wrote, "I am absolutely honoured to be named the Grand Marshal of this year's Pride March and look forward to walking beside my friends as we help create awareness and strengthen our community."  

"It just shows how much the city is changing, how much attitudes are changing, and how we can actually celebrate diversity and equality," said Turner.  

This year's trans focus

This year, the parade will place a special emphasis on the transgender community and trans rights.  

"Really, it comes down to the fact that the trans community has been kind of left behind 20 years behind where gays and lesbians are in terms of equality and acceptance," said Turner.

"It's time for us to put what we've learned in how to be activists and advocates, get [behind] the trans community and make sure that they have full protection."

Turner expects more than 1,000 people to make it out to the parade on August 15 and encourages everyone in the community to participate in Pride Week, which begins August 8.

To hear the full interview with Wilbur Turner, listen to the audio labelled: Okanagan Pride Festival.