It wasn’t just the sizeable attendance at the Fort Frances Civic Centre that had an impact in this years’ inaugural “Passport to Pride” march and Pride Week.
The speeches made during the flag ceremony, as well as online, by local community leaders and members, and by Canadian dignitaries, showed the impact that Pride celebrations have in even the smallest communities.
After the march made its way across the border, the party stopped at the civic centre for a flag ceremony before heading to the Rainy Lake Square for a barbecue and entertainment.
Caitlin Hartlen, radio personality for 93.1 The Border, kicked off the ceremonial event with a few words of encouragement and support, before taking on her duties as emcee.
An array of speakers were in attendance, including Gilbert Smith, an elder of Naicatchewenin First Nation, Mayor Roy Avis and Chief of Couchiching First Nation, Brian Perrault.
Chief Perrault first commended the efforts and support of the community members in attendance, as well as acknowedging the steps taken in his home community in honouring the Pride flag during the Grand Entry of Couchiching’s 25th-annual pow-wow.
“What that means to us is that we will not exclude anyone,” he said. “Everyone is welcome.”
“And that’s how we should live our lives . . . to realize that we’re all people.”
During his speech, Chief Perrault also admitted that he has not always been as welcoming as he could have been.
“I have to admit, throughout my life there were times . . . where I may have made homophobic comments,” he confessed. “And for that I’m deeply sorry.
“But, I heard something this morning that really made sense to me: When we know better, we do better. And that’s going to be a goal for my life.”
Katie Trigg, branch manager at the local TD Canada Trust, also spoke during the ceremony.
In addition to recognizing the Pride “volunqueers” and committee members for donating their time and organizing the first Pride celebrations in the district, Trigg highlighted the community has “come a really long way” and had a message for the members of the LGBTQ2 community and allies.
She asked the group to continue to “champion inclusion,” while learning about the experiences of those in the LGBTQ2 community, and to vocalize support for inclusion in the workplace and community.
“Participation in events like this today, and that have gone on all week in Fort Frances, are so important,” said Trigg.
The Borderland Pride march was led by Fort Frances High School Gay-Straight Alliance members Rainy Johnson and Macey McMillen, who also spoke at the ceremony to explain why Pride is important to them.
“People need a place to belong,” said McMillen. “They need a place where they can be themselves, and where they don’t have to worry about what other people are thinking.
“And they just want somewhere where they can be completely who they are, free of judgement.”
She also offered a quote from her grandmother, which is her “favourite quote ever.”
“You can’t help the way you’re wired.”
Young adults who call International Falls home participated in the Passport to Pride march, as well.
Shawn Christopherson said Pride events “show people that we exist,” and added that members of the LGBTQ2 community “can’t just hide in the shadows . . . We need to show that we’re here and we’re queer.”
Samantha van Heel supported Christopherson’s statement, and added that even though the group is very proud to be a part of Pride march and festivities, there are still people that don’t support it.
“But, it seems like every year goes by, it keeps on growing, becoming more known to everyone and I think it’s really important for everyone to know about this, because it’s a part of our community as a whole,” she said.
“It’s really important to know.”
Even though some Canadian dignitaries were not present at Saturday’s festivities, many of them did offer words of encouragement and praise.
Greg Rickford, MPP for Kenora–Rainy River, and Don Rusnak, MP for Thunder Bay–Rainy River, each provided a statement through Borderland Pride’s “Ally Open Mic” section on Facebook.
Rusnak also submitted a video showing support for Borderland Pride’s 2018 “Pride Week” celebrations, which can be viewed on the group’s Facebook page as well.
Although Randy Boissonnault, MP and special advisor to the Prime Minister on LGBTQ2 issues, was unable to attend the event on Saturday, he did provide a written statement, which was read to the crowd by local JoAnne Formanek-Gustafson.
“Events like today’s demonstrate how far we have come in making our country more inclusive, even as they remind us of the challenges that remian,” Boissonnault wrote in his statement.
“We normally think of Pride events as the stuff of big cities.
“However, grassroots support for LGBTQ2 who live in smaller communities is picking up momentum,” he added.
“That is something to celebrate.”
In the statement, Boissonnault explained that he was born in Morinville, a small town just north of Edmonton, Alta. and that living in that small town “offered a multitude of challenges” for him, but “eventually found the courage to come out.”
He added not everyone had access to a support network like he did growing up, but that with the Pride celebrations and recognition held in many towns and cities across the country, that stigma is changing.
“You are that change . . . Pride events have a history of breaking down barriers, and you are playing a special role,” wrote Boissonnault.