Fort Frances is turning into a town which is more inviting than ever.
This positive direction is punctuated by the second-annual Pride Week currently underway which seeing events taking place all week long to celebrate diversity, inclusion, and acceptance of difference in our communities and opportunities for learning and engagement on LGBTQ2 issues.
The transformation in recent years has created a more positive outlook for Fort Frances, which is coming across as a town where people can see themselves positively reflected in the community.
Pride Week has provided a sense of welcome to Fort Frances and the surrounding areas celebrating diversity. The town acknowledges the importance to have a safe and respectful place for those who identify as LGBTQ2 within the community.
“Momentum was not hard to come. People came forward of their own volition and said my organizations share these values or think that this is important,” said Borderland Pride co-chair and town councillor Douglas Judson.
“That, in essence, the exact kind of pride festival you want,” he added.
Last year's success with Pride Week here has led to other Pride events and festivals within the district this year. For example, Rainy River had its first-ever Pride March on May 25 which was well-received by the community.
Rainy River marks the end of Yonge Street from Toronto where Pride marches have been going on for decades. The historical significance connects LGBTQ2 communities and allies all across Ontario—from one end of Yonge Street to the other.
The first Pride Week was—in a sense—Fort Frances' own “coming out,” said Judson.
“It helps us to position ourselves as a place of welcome, of diversity, a place where people can move here and find comfort in the level of respect support and love they will receive from the community,” he noted.
Community events and support from local business and organizations around town have contributed to the growth of Pride Week.
People are beginning to recognize they are connected to the LGBTQ2 community within their own social circles and everyday lives. Pride helped expose even within small communities where it is less visibility there are issues of not being accepting of Pride.
“I think once it happened, you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube,” said Judson.
“Getting more information out to the public in a way that wasn't readily available before is a good thing,” added Trevor Bonot, 2019 Borderland Pride Grand Marshal.
“Clearly it's working with Pride extending to Rainy River this year,” he added.
Part of the challenge in a small community is—unlike other types of diversity—LGBTQ2 issues tend to be less visible. But now people are trying more to engage these issues to create a positive outcome, said Judson.
“People are starting to recognize it was there all along. They just maybe hadn't had the opportunity to engage with it or to know who it touched around them,” he added.
“Something we said from the beginning is pride initiatives are most needed where they are least visible.”
“Anytime there is stuff in the public eye it's a good thing, especially for youth growing up, and to change the minds and hearts of people that may not have any understanding of pride and what it really means,” agreed Bonot.
Rainy River District is growing into a place which exemplifies positivity and acceptance.
“I think the Rainy River District hasn't always been exposed to LGBTQ2 communities and the issues that are present in our lives, so I think just increased exposure people learn to have some understanding and just gaining acceptance is going to go a long way,” said Bonot.
Part of the initiative of Borderland Pride was to provide role models who have achieved success and have strong community ties.
Bonot is well-known within the district for his strong community presence and accomplishment in the curling world representing Canada nationally. Bonot was honoured when asked to represent the district as the Borderland Pride March Grand Marshal.
“It was probably the highlight of my curling career to wear the red and white proudly," said Bonot. "But getting to wear the Pride colours and march is going to be pretty exceptional too.”
“I think Trevor is a great example of that because he is someone who is very, very much tied into a regional pursuit and also is very committed to his family and his community and that's something people here identify with,” Judson added.
“We're trying to provide to people who are here examples of positive role models and people from the LGBTQ2 community who have achieved success or overcome barriers.”
The scope of inequality and exclusion has shrunk and it is fewer and farther in between. It is important to keep the positive momentum on the ongoing challenges.
“I think it is very important to understand that pride events are really about just providing a sense of welcome and inclusion and celebrating diversity,” said Judson.
Pride has helped boost the community's comprehension of being more supportive and inclusive. Pride has provided more forward thinking and is a great way to bring people together around a common message, noted Judson
Fort Frances continues to be part of the change and transformation to provide a positive life for all member of its community.
“That change is happening right now and I think that Pride is central to it and we are at the moment when we have these events, where we're punctuating that progress and were showing that we're changing in a positive direction,” said Judson.