Planning for “Pride Week 2019” has begun, with the first meeting drawing a crowd of about 30 people to the Fort Frances Public Library last Wednesday night.
Organizers, volunteers, and allies of the LGBTQ2 community reviewed last year's festivities and Borderland Pride's finances, brainstormed ideas for new events, and discussed goals for this year's Pride Week.
“There was a lot of frank and open sharing, which is always something we try to encourage and provide a safe space for,” said Borderland Pride co-chair Douglas Judson.
“That's very touching and it's certainly something that's affirming to us that we are doing the right things, when people feel free to open up and share their experiences and challenges as LGBTQ2 or allies of our community in these forms,” he added.
One of the key changes Borderland Pride is making this year is a shift in the week the festivities will be held.
“We are looking at doing our Pride celebration over a week in June this year, probably during the first half . . . somewhere in there which will allow for some alignment with the school year,” Judson noted.
“We'll probably be ironing out a formal schedule of events over the next few months.”
Fellow co-chair Peter Howie said they're trying to be more engaged with the schools this year and have events that cater to their participation.
“We weren't able to do that last year because our Pride Week took place in July,” he explained.
The idea of running in conjunction with the school year is to “really just promote the inclusion of LGBTQ2 students and to just let the student population generally be aware that this is something that takes place,” Howie remarked.
He added the group's goal is "to celebrate our community's LGBTQ2 pride and give people an opportunity to feel included.
“We just want to let our community be aware that there is a large and accepted LGBTQ2 population here,” Howie noted.
A lot of the feedback Borderland Pride received largely revolved around emphasizing their enthusiasm for the program and events the group offered in 2018.
“We always try to keep things fresh so you'll probably see a bit of the old, a bit of the new, a bit re-tailored to be something different,” Judson said.
“Nothing's carved in stone but we had a lot of enthusiasm for the events we did offer and so we'll continue to do that.”
Borderland Pride also will strive to keep their events free to attend and for all ages whenever possible.
“We don't want to have barriers to people participating,” Judson stressed.
"I'm not saying everything will be free to attend and everything will be all-ages this year, but that certainly is a priority and something we are cognizant of.
“We strive to make things as family-oriented and as inclusive as possible,” he added.
There was some discussion on having a balance of events on each side of the border.
The group wants to continue to build a community of support on the U.S. side but the primary focus is where it appears to have the most support.
“Our constituency seems to be most robust in the Fort Frances area at the moment, so we'll continue to focus there,” Judson explained.
“But again, Pride is about building those bridges and providing resources where they don't otherwise appear most readily and we're going to continue to do that,” he pledged.
One of the challenges Howie outlined was the lack of participation from International Falls residents in organizing a cross-border Pride.
“I think it's important that we continue to engage with the United States . . . but I'm worried about the sustainability to carry this on year after year without getting significant U.S. participation,” he conceded.
“I don't know that we have the capacity to organize a major event on the U.S. side like we do on the Canadian side.”
Most donors, volunteers, and service organizations that actively support Borderland Pride are located north of the border, Howie noted.
“But without a doubt, we're committed to doing a cross-border march again,” Howie stressed.
“That was very well-received when we did it last year and people are really excited to do it again.”
Other feedback from the meeting's participants included using Pride as a way of providing information to LGBTQ2 people and educate others on issues impacting them.
“There was a big emphasis on that. We'll need to put our minds together about how that can be weaved into the celebratory aspects of Pride,” Howie said.
Judson, meanwhile, noted they received “really good direction from the community on providing opportunities for public outreach and people to learn more about LGBTQ2 identities and families.”
This includes indigenous engagement and providing resources for the community at large on various issues with respect to LGBTQ2 health and well-being.
In terms of Borderland Pride's finances, the group operates largely on monetary and in-kind donations from the community.
“It costs us about $5,000 to do the type of Pride event we did last year and we will be looking to the community for some financial support for that again in 2019,” Judson said.
A significant portion of the money raised last year also came through merchandise sales.
“Our merchandise was very popular," Judson noted. ”We actually sold out of pretty much everything so we will be ramping up some of that in the next little while.
“Hopefully, that will make this endeavour a little bit more financially self-sufficient.”
Judson also is amazed by the support Borderland Pride continues to receive.
“A lot of the usual suspects came to our meeting last night [Wednesday], were represented there, and we're looking forward to working with those partner organizations again in 2019,” he remarked.
"Over the next little bit, we will mostly just be trying to solidify our relationships with varying organizations that partner with us on events.
“I know there were a couple that couldn't get someone out to our event last night [Wednesday] and . . . they're encouraged to get in touch with us so that we can make sure they don't miss out,” Judson added.
Anybody looking to get involved with Borderland Pride is encouraged to contact Judson (861-3684) or Howie (861-0638).
“I was very pleased, and actually touched, by the incredible level of support we received last year and I'm optimistic that we're going to meet that or more this year,” Howie enthused.