Borderland Pride's first official meeting garnered a lot of attention among residents from both sides of the border.
Held last Wednesday evening at Knox United Church here, organizers were “blown away” by the response to the roundtable discussion.
“We had about 35 to 40 people turn out, including strong representation from both sides of the border and representation from the local indigenous community,” noted Peter Howie, co-organizer of the Borderland Pride group.
As more people poured into Knox United Church, an extra row of tables had to be added behind the main one.
Those on hand included parents, students, young people, business owners, union reps, and local First Nation elders, said Howie.
“Many people also reached to us by e-mail expressing their interest in getting involved, but saying that they couldn't make it to our meeting,” he added.
“So we are very confident that there is local interest in bringing Pride to the Borderland.”
Howie said two themes emerged from the two-hour long discussion.
“First, that people want our local Pride initiative to focus on community engagement and education, particularly for the benefit of the LGBTQ2 youth in the area,” he remarked.
"Second, that any programming or events to be planned should affirm our communities as open and welcoming places for LGBTQ2 youth, families, and individuals.
“We will be looking to plan events and initiatives that align with those goals,” Howie added.
“We hope to plan a lineup of festivities so that there's a little something for everyone in the community.”
Some ideas that came up included a social, a queer prom, zumba sessions, a picnic, and a parade.
Howie stressed the importance of gathering people from various area communities to plan the Pride initiative.
“Pride in small towns is about building bridges between communities, primarily between the LGBTQ2 communities and others,” he explained.
“But in our case, also between allies on both sides of the border and with local First Nations.”
Howie noted he and co-organizer Doug Judson reached out to Couchiching First Nation elder Allan Yerxa because “the two-spirit identity in the LGBTQ2 acronym has a prominent place in indigenous culture, and we wanted to make sure that it was included in our group's plans from Day 1.”
“Indigenous people historically lived in the territory our communities share on both sides of the river,” he said.
“We wanted to reflect that sense of unity and togetherness because that is part of what Pride is all about—pride in our differences and strength in our commonality.”
“[Two-spirited people] are not to be messed with,” Yerxa said during the introduction to the roundtable discussion.
“They are a powerful part of our community," he stressed. "They are healers and they lead ceremonies.”
Howie also noted he is appreciative of Rev. Barb Miller at Knox United, one of the only LGBTQ2-affirming churches in this region.
“[Knox United] has taken steps to be a welcoming, inclusive space, and are well-known in the area as a host of community functions and meetings,” he said.
“We wanted to be able to accommodate all interested persons who wanted to take part, and their facility is accessible and has a gender-neutral washroom,” Howie added.
“Knox has been a gracious host and cheerleader of our early efforts, for which we are grateful.”
Miller assured Knox United wants be a “safe, welcoming space," which is something the congregation has "made a priority for some time now.”
Howie hopes the next meeting will develop an organizational structure, likely a committee with various organizational roles, as this initial discussion was just to gauge interest in the Pride initiative.
A date for the next meeting hasn't been set yet but Howie said the location most likely will rotate between Fort Frances and International Falls.
They hope to look for location opportunities that will engage other communities in Rainy River District and Koochiching County.
Anyone interested in contacting Howie can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or “like” the group's Facebook page (Borderland Pride).
This article originally appeared in the Fort Frances Times.