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First Pride Week a resounding success

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Seven days of activities recognizing LGBTQ2 equality and inclusion in the Borderland region have come to a close. Organizers of the first-ever Pride festival for the Rainy River District and Koochiching County are calling public enthusiasm and participation in the events “unprecedented" and "inspiring”

“We set out to offer a small program of activities to test the waters—starting small—but the public support and enthusiasm for Pride has truly amplified our ambitions,” said Douglas Judson, co-chair of Borderland Pride.

“We offered a family-oriented program with something for everyone. The attendance figures speak for themselves,” he added.

On Friday night, over twice as many people lined up for the “Fort Fabulous" drag show than the venue had capacity to host. On Saturday, over 200 people participated in the "Passport to Pride” March from Smokey Bear Park in International Falls, Minnesota to the Civic Centre in Fort Frances, Ontario, which was led by members of the Fort Frances High School Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA).

The march is one of the first LGBTQ2 Pride parades in the world to cross an international border.

The Community “BBQueer” at Rainy Lake Square saw approximately 300 attendees for lunch and entertainment. Earlier events in the week were at or near capacity. Those events included a crafting session in partnership with Community Living, a screening of the two-spirit film Fire Song, a community breakfast hosted by Fort Frances Tribal Area Health Authority, and story-time with four visiting drag queens.

“One part of this project that has been most inspiring has been the number of supportive businesses, organizations, and individuals who came forward of their own initiative to ask if they could host an event during Pride Week, if they could make an in-kind or financial contribution, or to volunteer,” said Judson.

“We didn't seek out most of our sponsors—they found us—and that speaks volumes about the type of community we live in,” he added.

Almost every business on the 200 and 300 blocks of Scott Street in downtown Fort Frances and a number of International Falls businesses displayed rainbow flags or related decor in their storefronts all week. Some private residents did the same at their homes.

“It has been personally fulfilling to see the community come together to show its support for LGBTQ2 people, and LGBTQ2 young people in particular,” said Judson.

“It's also been very rewarding to hear from LGBTQ2 people from the area—often people whose negative experiences drove them away—who have been so touched to see all of the love on display in their hometown on social media this week. Their stories have been very moving,” he added.

“I hope that through these events and our positive message, we can repair some of that hurt.”

Borderland Pride plans to make Pride Week an annual festival going forward, and will continue to offer smaller, periodic events throughout the year. Organizers would like to improve their footprint in International Falls and reach a point where all of the municipalities in the area can proclaim the week as Pride Week and be part of the events.

“We are working from a very strong foundation moving forward but continue to look for opportunities for growth and outreach,” said Judson.

“We have said many times that Pride is about building bridges between communities. We were so proud to see people from Canada and the U.S.; of Indigenous, settler, and Métis descent; and of LGBTQ2 and ally identities come together in common cause this past week,” he added.

“Pride knows no borders and we are committed to keeping that spirit alive in Borderland.”

Area residents interested in being involved with future Borderland Pride events or initiatives are asked to email borderlandpride@gmail.com or to message the organization through its Facebook page.

Feedback about this year's Pride Week events can also be directed to those points of contact.

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