Being queer in Simcoe, Ontario, is fraught with challenges. The small township north of Toronto staged its first Pride celebration last year. Founding Simcoe Pride board member Mary Sue Robinet says their tiny celebration grappled with limited funds and a lack of adequate volunteers.
But Simcoe’s next Pride will be bigger and more organized thanks to lessons learned from Capital Pride (CP) board members.
Robinet is visiting Ottawa as part of Fierté Canada Pride’s (FCP) annual conference. This year CP hosts the conference, held jointly with InterPride, an international organization that aims to increase networking and communication among Pride organizations.
The conference offers informative sessions on everything from engaging youth in Pride to the mechanics of sponsorship.
The gathering is FCP’s biggest yet, with 14 Canadian Pride organizations attending along with the largest number of delegates.
Simcoe, which includes the towns of Orilla and Barrie, joined FCP this year, along with Quebec City, Durham, Brockville and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
As a newly founded Pride, Simcoe is learning how to increase fundraising opportunities and is seizing the opportunity to network with established queer organizations.
Robinet says two instances of homophobia tainted Simcoe’s inaugural Pride event.
“Luckily enough, we have some very good sponsors who don’t tolerate it,” she says. “Comments were made; some things were said to our youth, and those people were simply removed.”
However, Barrie’s mayor, Jeff Lehman, is particularly supportive of Simcoe Pride, Robinet says. Lehman has encouraged the organization to hold a parade for their second festival.
Robinet says that from the beginning, she was quick to adopt the motto that Pride includes everyone, including her region’s transgender population.
“I’m not just fighting for my rights. I’m fighting for everybody. There’s a reason that we have all those letters [in the acronym,]” she adds.
On the volunteer front, Robinet says some members abruptly resigned when they realized Simcoe Pride was not all about “sex, drugs and rock and roll.”
“It’s not just about drinking and partying,” Robinet says. “We have a very good youth contingent, so let’s mentor them, let’s build this for them.”
Robinet’s daughter, Chloe Melnyk, 13, who attended the session on engaging youth facilitated by CP board member Jodie McNamara, says she will take examples of how to increase community involvement back to Simcoe.
Pride Toronto (PT) members are in attendance at the conference to teach but also to learn, executive director Kevin Beaulieu says.
“All Prides are very local in nature. They are responding to local circumstances, communities and history, but they are also bound together in really a global movement.”
Susan Gapka, who is the first trans PT board member
, says she loves the chance to network and meet the people behind each city’s Pride. “There’s such diversity here; the people are as diverse as our land and geography,” she says.
Adam Reid’s and Mark Monk’s notebooks are overflowing with tips and tricks they plan to implement at this year’s Halifax Pride (HP.)
A friend of Taavel’s, Reid was visibly emotional when recalling memories of the time the two spent together.
“It’s an incident that has deeply affected the community. Any mention of our friend Raymond brings back many emotions. It’s nice that he was recognized; it’s been hard,” he says. “He was engaged and full of life and energy.”
Pride Winnipeg’s (PW) board president, Jonathan Niemczak, is hoping to inject energy into his city’s celebration in the form of increased tourism. PW recently launched a YouTube channel
and web show titled Out and About
to showcase what Winnipeg’s queer scene has to offer. Niemczak says the conference’s tourism and sponsorship sessions reinforced previously identified needs.
“It will add a lot of value to our organization if we put more focus into tourism,” he says. “We don’t currently have a sponsorship director, so we took a lot of advice. Not all of us are overly familiar with sponsorship.”
CP board chair Michael Lafontaine says his personal highlight of the conference is reconnecting with Pride board members from across the country. Although CP is the host organization, Lafontaine says he is keeping his ears open to learn from other Pride organizations, because as seasoned as you may be, “you don’t know everything.”
“Ottawa is not the only one where it has happened. It’s often the passionate, fiery personalities that get involved. It’s best when calmer heads prevail and when people sense they are getting excited, just back away and settle themselves.”
The recent controversy surrounding CP seems to be in the past, and Stetson commends the Ottawa team for organizing a successful conference.
“They’re doing an awesome job,” Stetson says, noting she’s worked most closely with Chris Ellis and Doug Saunders-Riggins, who are no longer on the CP board but remain on the FCP organizing committee.
“They’ve done an exceptional job; the attendance speaks for itself.”
The conference wraps up March 17.