On a humid Saturday afternoon in June 1989, 12 Kingston residents gathered in a parking lot behind city hall. The small group made its way down Princess St carrying one banner that read “Lesbian and Gay Pride Kingston.”
Onlookers were stunned into silence. The marchers didn’t need piercing whistles or a catchy chant. In small-town Ontario circa 1989, their mere presence was enough of a statement.
In the 23 years since those courageous queers took to the streets of Kingston, Pride celebrations in the town known as the Limestone City have undergone a massive metamorphosis.
The first official Pride Day in Kingston was implemented in 1995 by then-mayor Helen Cooper, and the current mayor, Mark Gerretsen, recently proclaimed June to be Pride month in the city. Yet since Kingston Pride’s inception, the calibre of the city’s festivities has ebbed and flowed, mostly due to a splintering of the city’s gay community.
However, the eight individuals tasked with planning this year’s event are dedicated to mending those broken ties and making this year the loudest and proudest Pride the city has ever seen.
Committee member Kevin Williams is a lifelong Kingston resident and remembers the difficult years during the ‘80s and ‘90s when the queer community remained disparate and unconnected. Williams says that although seven of the eight members are new to the committee, their collective devotion to the cause is what makes this year unique.
“I think the community connection in the past wasn’t as strong as it is now,” he says. “Because of that, people became a little disenchanted with trying to pull it together. We have a good committee this year, and because of that more people are being drawn in.”
In addition to drawing in more individuals, the committee has succeeded in securing the participation of more local businesses and organizations than ever before. Queen’s University, The Sir John A Macdonald Foundation and Kingston’s HIV and AIDS Regional Services (HARS) represent a small sample of the dozens of establishments proudly lending a pink-gloved hand this year.
By day, Tegan Boyce works at HARS as the organization’s administrative resource and events coordinator. Boyce moonlights as the Pride committee’s events coordinator and is elated that her organization is taking part in this year’s celebrations. HARS will be throwing a five-dollar dance; Boyce emphasizes that the low cost of the shindig reflects her employer’s inclusive philosophy.
“It’s really important to us that everybody can be included in a HARS event. One of the things we’re about is coming together as a community. It shows people who we are, and at the same time it allows people to take part if they can’t afford some of the more expensive parties,” she says.
Boyce goes on to speak of the hard work the committee is putting into this year’s event as they strive to regain Kingston Pride’s former glory.
“We’re trying to build it back up and get Pride back on the map as a big deal,” she says. “Because it is a big deal; it’s the biggest thing that happens for the queer community in Kingston.”
Big-ticket events this year are varied; they include a Pride-themed art show, a picnic in the park, the Out on the Queen boat cruise and Reelout’s Hollywood Pride movie nights at The Screening Room. Committee members say they were mindful to stage assorted adventures to appeal to all facets of Kingston’s queer community.
The community in Kingston, queer or not, is heavily influenced by the Canadian Forces. CFB Kingston has historically played an integral role in the city by the Seaway’s development.
2012 will be the first year members of the Canadian Forces are permitted to don their uniforms while marching in the Pride parade. However, there was no controversy surrounding being granted the permission to do so, says Captain Les Champ, of Army Collective Training at CFB Kingston. This year just happened to be the first occasion members of the Forces requested to do so.
In addition, this year marks the 25th anniversary of the end of the Forces’ discrimination against gays and lesbians serving in the military. To pay homage on this landmark occasion, Champ asked the very person who brought about that significant change to take part in this year’s celebrations.
Ottawa-born human rights activist Michelle Douglas
joined the Forces in 1986, and despite her exemplary record of service, she was dismissed in 1989 because of her sexual orientation. Immediately before Douglas’s case was to progress to trial, the Canadian Forces abandoned their policy barring gays and lesbians from serving.
“In recognition of her achievements and the anniversary, I asked if Ms Douglas would like to participate with us, and she responded that yes, she would be willing to participate,” Champ says. “I almost cried when I got that response because she is a personal hero of mine.”
With a queer icon in attendance, a reinvigorated committee and a zombie dance, among other attractions, Champ reminds Ottawans that small-city gays and lesbians are just as proud as their urban-inclined neighbours.
“If Pride is a celebration of diversity and of our culture, in my opinion we have moved from being a sexual orientation to a fully fledged cultural community. We as a culture should support each other,” he says.
“And that is something I have learned in the military: to support and help, to work as a team player and leader. If we support each other, we keep the vibrancy of our community and culture alive; we become the ambassadors of acceptance and diversity in all its multihued rainbow form. And is that not what Pride is about?”
Fri, June 1 – Sat, June 16