Barrie has five more reasons to take pride in their community this year.
The fifth-annual Fierté Simcoe Pride Awards took place Saturday at the Officers' Mess at Base Borden, celebrating achievements of and for members of the LGBTQ community county-wide.
Of the five awards presented, all the winners hail from the city, with the City of Barrie even receiving Community of the Year honours.
Barrie Coun. Keenan Aylwin was proud to be named Person of the Year.
“I’m completely honoured and shocked, actually,” said Aylwin. “I was up against some pretty tough competition. All of the people nominated in that category do such amazing work and frankly, life-saving work.”
“It was incredibly humbling to be up there on the stage with them and to share that moment with them,” he said.
This year, the approval of the Simcoe Street rainbow crosswalk at the council table was seen as a powerful symbol for the community, and was championed by Aylwin at the council table.
“We also created Barrie’s first micro-grant program for LGBTQ organizations so they can apply to further their work around anti-bullying and inclusion in Barrie,” said Aylwin.
Aylwin, who is gay, said these strides are important to him on a personal level as well, as he grew up in Barrie, at times afraid to come out of the closet.
“There were some difficult moments. Frankly, growing up here, I was always looking forward to moving away,” said Aylwin.
“When I came back, I realized the potential Barrie has and that we have come a long way. I want to push to make sure everyone has that experience and they can feel welcome in this community and they don’t have to leave to find acceptance and love," said the Ward 2 councillor.
Some local strides Aylwin mentions are the city being the first municipality in Simcoe County to raise the Pride flag, being one of the first in the country to raise the transgender pride flag and recognize the Transgender Day of Remembrance, and having positive relationships with many LGBTQ organizations locally.
“I’m so proud of what we achieved at the awards. Barrie cleaned up. Every person or organization that won an award is from Barrie. I’m incredibly proud of our community and the impact we’re making,” he said.
Aylwin said that although Barrie has made huge strides toward acceptance, there still have been some bumps in the road.
“Homophobia absolutely still exists in Barrie. I have been on the receiving end of that hatred,” said Aylwin.
Aylwin said minor comments are common, but the more brazen ones stick with him.
“Right after getting elected, one of my fellow councillors received a phone call from a resident who said they were disgusted there was a homosexual on Barrie city council. So, we still have those issues in our community,” he said.
Looking forward, Aylwin hopes the community can rally around the most vulnerable within the LGBTQ community.
“Trans people face islands. They’re more likely to experience poverty and homelessness. That’s unacceptable. We need to address those inequities,” he said.
Global issues are also on his mind.
“Homosexuality is still criminalized in many places,” said Aylwin. “We shouldn’t stop fighting for equity until people in the LGBTQ community are safe everywhere.”
Right here at home, Aylwin hopes to see the micro-grant program continue past the one-year mark.
“We can look at maybe extending that grant for future years,” he said. “I’d also (like to) address broader inequities in the system in housing and homelessness here in Barrie.”
“I’m incredibly hopeful about the future,” he added.
Fierté Simcoe Pride president Brandon Rhéal Amyot said more than 150 people attended the gala, which is by far the most the group has ever had.
“There were so many amazing nominees,” said Amyot. “It’s a chance for the community to all sit in a room together. We don’t often get... to do that.”
“I was really excited this year that we had nominees from across the county. People are doing amazing work across our region and it’s great to see so much leadership happening on all fronts to make our county a safer and more inclusive place," he said.
As two weeks of planned Pride festivities put on by Fierte Simcoe Pride wrapped up Sunday, Amyot feels gratitude to everyone who supported the events along the way.
“We’re really overwhelmed by the support not only from sponsors but also from volunteers and community members,” said Amyot. “It’s been a really special year marking our history and our future. I can’t wait to see where we go from here.”
To read about the contributions to the LGBTQ community by all the nominees, click here.
List of 2019 award recipients
Community of the Year - The City of Barrie
Person of the Year - Keenan Aylwin
Organization of the Year - The Gilbert Centre
Business of the Year - Express Aid Pharmacy
Youth of the Year - Nathan Kup