Fierté Simcoe Pride was launched in 2012 in an effort to build awareness and acceptance of sexual and gender diversity in Simcoe County.
Even though this year all 22 municipalities and government entities in Simcoe County have either raised the rainbow flag of the 2SLGBTQ+ community or proclaimed July 29 to August 11 as Fierté Simcoe Pride, there is still work to be done “to make us feel more safe, more included,” said Brandon Rhéal, the president of the group.
On Thursday, he and others with Fierté Simcoe Pride were in Bradford West Gwillimbury raising the rainbow flag at the Bradford Courthouse as BWG Mayor Rob Keffer read a proclamation recognizing Fierté Simcoe Pride.
Rhéal noted that support for the 2SLGBTQ+ (Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer+) community has grown across the county. He said this year’s fifth annual Simcoe County Pride Awards Gala promises to be the largest ever, with double the attendance of last year.
Even as Fierté Simcoe Pride moves forward, it is looking toward the past, Rhéal said, noting this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the so-called Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village, New York, when the LGBTQ+ community pushed back against persecution and criminalization.
“Our community said ‘no more’ to systemic discrimination,” said Rhéal. “Our history is one of persistence, of resilience and advocacy. Our history is our future… Hopefully, we will carry this history forward.”
Rhéal praised the support received from the Town of BWG – which even before the formation of Fierté Simcoe Pride had raised the rainbow flag in recognition of gender diversity – and from organizations like the Bradford Women’s+ Group, BWG Diversity Action Group, and the BWG Public Library and Cultural Centre.
“It’s great seeing libraries doing more for our community,” Rhéal said. “Their role has increased… not only as a community institution, but one that provides education and celebration.”
Rhéal invited those present to come up to the microphone and talk about the role of Fierté Simcoe Pride, both in the community and in their lives.
“It is so much needed in our community,” said Julie Kumar, of the BWG Diversity Action committee, noting that some residents still struggle for acceptance and understanding.
“I think it is important we recognize we’re not all the way there yet, in terms of inclusivity,” agreed Jessa McLean, who came in from Georgina for the flag-raising. “We are all one community in the end. Thank you very much. These things are very important to us.”
South Simcoe Police Chief Andrew Fletcher took the mic to talk about the need “to be inclusive, to value that inclusivity. We need to continue to make people feel welcome, feel included, break down those barriers.”
There have been advances. The Gilbert Centre now provides LGBTQ and HIV support and a North Muskoka Trans Health Centre has been established to address health-care concerns.
All the same, Rhéal said, “We acknowledge there’s still work to do. Changing hearts and minds is difficult work.”
This year, more events and activities than ever have been planned for Fierté Simcoe Pride, including a Pride Prom and Dance Party in Barrie tonight, a Pride picnic at Sunset Point Park in Collingwood Aug. 3, the fourth annual Trans Pride March in Orillia at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 8, and the Aug. 11 Pride Festival in Barrie.
On Aug. 9, Fierté Simcoe Pride will partner with the BWG Diversity Action Group and Bradford Women’s+ Group to host a Pride Social at Don Cherry’s Sports Grill, 100 Dissette St. in Bradford, starting at 6:30 p.m. The community is invited to drop by for free appetizers, games and prizes.
And on Aug. 10, the fifth annual Simcoe County Pride Awards Gala will take place at CFB Borden. Nominees from Bradford West Gwillimbury are the Bradford Women’s+ Group, being considered for Organization of the Year, and local award-winning teacher and poet, Jessica Van de Kemp, nominated for Person of the Year.
See www.simcoepride.com for details of all events.
“We will move forward, and continue to work” building an inclusive Simcoe County, promised Rhéal as the rainbow flag was raised in Bradford.