EMO, Ont. - Despite the mayor and some members of the Emo council voting not to recognize Pride month, the community itself welcomed it with open arms during a special parade to send a message that everyone should feel welcomed and included.
“It means the world to me,” said Caitlin Hartlen, who also goes by the drag name Jack Doff.
“I come from small communities myself and moving to Fort Frances and the surrounding area I was a little worried I would have to keep myself back in the closet. For the most part there has been a lot of outpouring of support, but recently some decisions of council members of Emo and the mayor have reflected there are attitudes that still exist that need to be changed, we need more acceptance.”
Last Saturday, Borderland Pride hosted what it called the Emo Ambush, which included a Pride parade of nearly 75 vehicles in the township west of Fort Frances.
“This confirms what we knew all along,” said Douglas Judson, co-chair with Borderland Pride.
“We knew the decision not to welcome and embrace pride in this community wasn’t in touch with the community itself. At last count we had 65 or 70 loads of vehicles of people here waiting to show they are here for an inclusive community and that is what they want to demonstrate.”
Last month, Emo mayor Harold McQuaker, along with councilors Harold Boven and Warren Toles voted against recognizing June as Pride Month or flying the Pride flag outside of the municipal office. Councilors Lincoln Dunn and Lori Ann Shortreed voted in favour.
The decision not to support pride was seen as discriminatory by Borderland Pride and the LGBTQ2+ Pride organization in the District of Rainy River, who have since launched a human rights complaint against the township.
Judson said it is part of a process of fostering inclusion and fighting against discrimination in Northern Ontario.
“The law is well established on this, but we need to send this message to the most remote parts of Ontario and Canada to tell our local officials they have a role in this process,” he said.
Judson added that pride is fairly new to Northwestern Ontario and these types of discussions about what is the place of pride and what role institutions play in creating inclusion are happing across the region.
“I think what you see here is people want to be part of that mainstream, they want to be part of communities that are open to everyone, where everyone can have a home and feel welcomed and accepted,” he said.
Many people came out to show support to the parade as it made its way through Emo. Including Logan Potvin, who also goes by the drag name, Shaelavie.
“Pride is super important to have in every day and every aspect of your life and me being here today is to standup for that,” Potvin said. “It’s great to see the solidarity and everyone coming together.”
“My heart is bursting,” Hartlen added. “I wasn’t sure what kind of turnout we were going to get. It’s really lovely to see the way people have come together and taking on this alternative way to celebrate pride. I want to cry.”
Emma Stanike and Morgan Gagne, who live in Fort Frances and are part of the LGBTQ2+ community, say they wanted to be in Emo for the ambush to celebrate inclusiveness in the north.
“I really love this entire community, family setting,” Stanike said. “I just love being a part of it. We are all very close even though most of us have never even met.”
“It’s a family thing,” Gagne added. “It’s really nice to relate to other people and not feel like you are one of a kind.”
Stanike added she was shocked when she first learned of the Emo council voting against recognizing Pride Month.
“It’s surprising to me that people can hate on other people for something small like that,” she said.
Lisa Loney, who said she always likes to look at things with positivity, still recognizes the past struggles of the LGBTQ2+ community and says its unfortunate that these struggles still exist.
“I was born in the 60s, six years before being gay became legal in Canada,” she said. “I thought I left this bigotry behind me in the last century, so I would say reading the comments that ere negative were pretty hurtful. Today seemed to erase all of that. The positive vibe that everyone was giving and being able to carry a flag. It was a really beautiful sight.”
With files from Cory Nordstrom, TBT News.