Last week Borderland Pride officially kicked off Pride month in Fort Frances with a little help from some friends.
Observing social distancing rules and limiting what is usually a public event to a livestreamed virtual flag-raising, Borderland Pride co-chair Douglas Judson was joined by Fort Frances Mayor June Caul, Couchiching First Nation Chief Brian Perrault, Grad Council Treaty#3 Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh and a guest speaker in order to celebrate the beginning of Pride month.
Judson opened the event by acknowledging that being unable to properly celebrate this year and continue the tradition of an international Pride walk was not the way people wanted things to go.
“This year we will observe Pride under the unique constraints of social distancing and a restricted international border,” Judson said.
“We know that this is disappointing to many members of our community who have come to see this annual celebration as an opportunity to support our young people and build confidence and belonging. We know that many of you are isolated right now, potentially with unsupportive families, or away from schools, activities and other supports that help you find strength. We are with you.”
Judson explained that Pride month in northern communities like Fort Frances provides an opportunity to show to potential businesses and residents that they are inclusive places and that, in addition to supporting LGBTQ2 people living in town, prompted the creation of Borderland Pride’s “Pride Lives Here” campaign, which he said has seen widespread support throughout the district and even in other provinces.
“Since Victoria day, Pride Lives Here has spread like wildfire,” he said.
“We have distributed almost 700 campaign sings across northwestern Ontario. We have also sent the artwork to organizations across Canada that want to share our message with their community after reading our story in the Toronto Star. Together these affirmations send a strong message that Pride Lives Here right across our region, even in the shadow of a pandemic and in the face of some bigotry in certain quarters.”
Judson also touched on the Black Lives Matter protests that had swept across much of the United States following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police officers and stressed that Pride stands with and supports other civil rights movements.
“As we move forward in this uncertain and fractured time, Pride organizations are reminded of our own history as a movement,” he said.
“It was 51 years that the Stonewall riots gave life to Pride and the fight for LGBTQ2 equality. It is that same sense of outrage and concern that cause queer people to stand with other equity, justice and truth seeking movements today. As we watch demonstrations and protests unfold across the United states and around the world, it is critical that LGBTQ2 people stand with those facing race-based violence, brutality and oppression. Black Lives Matter, people of colour matter and fighting back matters. As we call for allies to the cause of Pride and supporting our youth, it is equally important this year that we be allies to others facing systemic injustice.”
Mayor Caul also addressed the public, and noted that even in the face of COVID and protests, it is important to recognize and honour those who have been marginalized, even as other members of the public turn away from their plights.
“Far too many people have been marginalized for centuries: Jews, the homeless, the indigenous people, those with different skin colour, different religious activities and our LGBTQ2 group of people throughout the country,” she said.
“Today we raise the Pride flag to honour and accept those who have been marginalized because of their sexual identification... Standing with us here today are good people, they are friends of mine, I am proud to call them my friends and I choose to acknowledge them as being my equal in every way, as good people who deserve to be treated as I myself want to be treated. If it’s raising this flag, marching in a parade and celebrating people who have not been accepted forever, if that means that I choose to accept and respect the LGBTQ2 population, and if that’s what it takes, please, let’s raise that rainbow flag right now.”
Perrault also spoke at the event, and thanked Borderland Pride for inviting him to speak, saying that it was important for everyone to support each other.
“I want to thank Councillor Doug Judson for inviting me here and the mayor as well, and the relationship that we have between Couchiching and Fort Frances is getting very strong, much stronger over the last couple of years,” Perrault said. “I’m very proud of that. We’re able to come together and try to seek to understand each other, and that’s why I wanted to be here today, because there are Two Spirited people in all of our communities and they have to know that their leaders support them, care for them, love them and that’s what this is about here. This is why I wanted to participate, to show people and members in my community and throughout the Anishinaabe community in Treaty #3 and right across Turtle Island and the world that we stand with them and we want to make sure that we do everything we can.”
Perrault also said that Indigenous people in Canada have and continue to face discrimination, and that together there can be an end to the kind of discriminations faced by marginalized people.
“We need to look at each other with love and kindness and respect,” he said.
“We know how it feels to be marginalized, to be looked at in a different way, so that is why I wanted to be here and show that respect and kindness and love while we start this month of June and all the activities that might happen throughout this month. Let’s not forget that there’s a better world in front of us and we each need to do our part to make sure that happens.”
Treaty #3 Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh also made a surprise appearance at the event, where he noted that he was in town for a different meeting, but when he found out the flag raising was happening he made a point to attend.
“I take this opportunity on behalf of the Grand Council, the people I represent that we do support, we appreciate Pride people, the LGBTQ people,” Kavanaugh said.
“I know as Anishinaabe I have experienced racism throughout my life. I still experience it as Grand Chief, people often accost me when I’m in public places and they start questioning me about the stances that Treaty #3 has taken as First Nations people... because of that I truly understand, I have empathy for what the LGBTQ2 people have to go through in terms of being marginalized.”
Kavanaugh revealed he had tasked his staff with looking into establishing an LGBTQ2 group within Treaty #3’s governance structure, and that they have already checked with different ministries in order to work towards that goal. Kavanaugh also said they were also in the process of adding the Pride rainbow to the treaty #3 logo in another sign of solidarity.
“We’re in wholehearted support of LGBTQ2 and what it stands for,” Kavanaugh said.
“From our perspective as First Nations people, we were raised to believe in love, kindness, compassion for everybody, so this is what this kind of message I’m delivering is, that we are here to support that.”
Following Kavanaugh’s speech, Judson invited guest speaker Mace to come and give a short speech. Mace explained that they had first hand experience with bigotry against LGBTQ2 people, which showed the value and importance of Pride organizations and events.
“There is absolutely nothing better than seeing Pride Lives Here signs or rainbow Pride flags all around town and at businesses,” they said.
“It shows us as LGBT people that there are people out here who support us and are going to stand up for us, for our rights and show people that it’s all about love. Love is love and it’s about time we start celebrating our differences and who we are. That is why Pride is important.”
Borderland Pride has since revealed a number of events planned for the month that will respect physical distancing requirements, including a chalk contest during the week of June 8-12, a series of storytime videos hosted by local drag personalities and a Two-Spirit Zoom Room panel discussion about the history and significance of Two-Spirit identity that will be held by local Anishinaabe leaders.
For more details on these and other events planned for Pride Month, go to Borderland Pride’s Facebook page.