Borderland Pride made history this weekend when over 200 people crossed over the International Bridge as part of the “Passport to Pride” march in celebration of the inaugural 2018 Rainy River District and Koochiching County “Pride Week.”
Though the mercury was high, the weather could not have been better for the first-ever event.
Hundreds of people donning colourful shirts and hats, rainbow flags and signs of support were led by Fort Frances High School Gay-Straight Alliance members Macey McMillen and Raina Johnson.
The one-mile march began in Smokey Bear Park in International Falls where U.S. dignitaries and special guests offered their words and support, including International Falls Councillor Harley Droba.
After the remarks, the march was underway, heading down 3rd Street, then north towards the Canadian border.
The large group made their way across the bustling bridge, which was backlogged with cars and trucks towing boats.
After patiently making their way through Canadian customs, and grabbing a much-needed bottle of water–and a quick photo with the “Drag Moose”–at the Fort Frances Tourism Information Centre, the march continued down Church Street for a flag ceremony at the Fort Frances Civic Centre.
Once all had arrived, and found a comfortable seat in the shade, opening remarks were made by Caitlin Hartlen, a morning show host on 93.1 The Border and who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ2 community.
Hartlen was also a part of the Friday night drag show “Fort Fabulous Friday,” performing as her drag king persona, Jack Doff.
The support shown at various Pride events through sheer numbers alone, showed her that she can “be the queer role model that [she] never had growing up.”
“I’m sure you can agree with me when I say I want to live in a future where wearing a shirt like this is not a bullseye on my chest for hatred to be aimed at, but a symbol of hope and togetherness,” said Hartlen.
Numerous people took to the podium for the flag ceremony, including Katie Trigg, local TD branch manager, Chief Brian Perrault of Couchiching and Gilbert Smith, an elder of Naicatchewenin First Nation, along with JoAnne Formanek who delivered greetings from MP Randy Boissonnault and special advisor to the Prime Minister on LGBTQ2 issues.
And after, Borderland Pride co-chairs Doug Judson and Peter Howie stood behind the podium as Judson offered a few words for the crowd.
“We have said it many times when asked about why Pride is important in small towns,” he said.
“The answer is simple: Pride is most needed where its people are fewest in number, because that is where our young people, and others struggling with sexual orientation, gender identity or gender-based harassment or violence, are most vulnerable.”
Judson added that Pride–especially in small towns–is also about showing the LGBTQ2 youth that their community and authority figures, as well as various organizations and institutions around them “care about them, accept them for the people they are and want to give them all of the love we can to grow into the best people they can be.”
Over the years, the stigma surrounding being gay or “coming out” has caused some to be bullied, and even sometimes cast aside by their families.
And because of this, statistics for the rate of homeless LGBTQ2 youth, as well as those same youth who attempt or succeed in committing suicide are overwhelming.
“That is simply not good enough,” said Judson.
But, both Fort Frances and International Falls, as well as surrounding communities, passed resolution acknowledging Pride Week, showing their support of diversity and inclusion in the districts.
In addition, Couchiching First Nation raised the two-spirit flag during the Grand Entry of the annual pow-wow.
Judson also touched on the recent changes made to the sexual education curriculum made by the newly-installed Ford government.
After promising to scrap the Liberal sex-ed curriculum during the campaign, the new conservative government followed through, announcing on July 11 that, not only will they be reviewing the curriculum, but they would be reverting to the old 1998 version.
“It does not cover topics such as consent, or offer any insight into online safety,” he said.
“This is an antiquated curriculum that is light on facts, does not acknowledge the equality of LGBTQ2 people or their families and is negligent in protecting our young people from harm or exploitation.
“The decision reads as an act of erasure–as though gay people are too unsightly for the classroom,” he added.
“And that is simply unacceptable.”
Judson urged the members of the LGBTQ2 community and its allies in attendance at the ceremony to continue to look for ways to support and celebrate diversity and inclusion, while also fighting resistance.
When the speeches were finished, the party moved to the Rainy Lake Square for a community “BBQueer” and entertainment, in partnership with the Fort Frances Museum.
Nearly 300 people enjoyed burgers and the live entertainment, while socializing and enjoying the sunny afternoon.
In a released statement, Borderland Pride was originally set to plan a week of smaller activities to “test the water.”
But, as Pride Week approached, support poured in.
“The attendance figures speak for themselves,” said Judson.
Borderland Pride plans to make Pride Week an annual event, while also offering smaller events throughout the year.