Visibility, equality and dignity for LGBTQ2 youth and families is crucial — even in the smallest corners of the world, says Emo, Ontario, native Doug Judson.
And for Fort Frances and International Falls, which collectively house less than 15,000 residents, the need may be greater locally than in larger cities.
“That is usually where it is most needed,” said Judson, CEO of a new First Nation-owned economic development corporation.
‘LGBTQ2’ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and two-spirited.
Two-spirited refers to a person who has both a masculine and a feminine spirit, and is used by some First Nations people to describe their sexual, gender and/or spiritual identity.
Judson, along with his partner Peter Howie, is making strides toward spreading awareness of and inclusivity for those who identify as LGBTQ2 in Borderland with the formation of Borderland Pride.
“Pride groups are passion projects,” said Judson, who previously served on the board of a Canadian non-profit called Start Proud, which provides resources, networking, and mentoring opportunities to LGBTQ2 students pursuing careers in Canada’s corporate sector. “I have always been very interested in supporting the LGBTQ2 community in the Borderland area — especially LGBTQ2 youth, having grown up here myself.”
And Judson and Howie aren’t alone.
The duo last summer and fall held two roundtable-like meetings, one on each side of the border, focusing on why it is important to have a visible presence in the community, explained Howie, who maintains a small-town legal practice in Fort Frances, specializing in real estate, criminal defense and family law. Both events were very well attended, he said, and the duo credits Knox United Church in Fort Frances and Faith United Church in International Falls for hosting the events.
“These churches have been tremendous allies and sources of support and encouragement for our fledgling organization and it was really touching that at the roundtable in Fort Frances we had to keep making our table bigger as more people showed up to take part,” said Howie. “Drawing the circle wider and getting more people involved is really part of the Pride spirit. Essentially, the sense of ‘welcome’ our community outwardly displays has a role in our economic future, too.”
Other topics that came up at the group’s roundtable discussions highlighted the need for more resources or support networks for parents and families of LGBTQ2 people.
“Some people did express that these issues have different challenges on each side of the border, and I think it’s fair to say that Canada and the United States are in different places right now on LGBTQ2 recognition,” said Judson.
Canada legalized same-sex marriage in 2005, the U.S. did in 2015.
“In the Rainy River District, the public school board is a leading ally and provides significant resources to support Gay-Straight Alliances in our schools,” said Judson. “But there has been momentum in the U.S., too — memorably with the release of U.S. Supreme Court decisions and the mobilized public resistance to oppression and defense of minorities we have seen since the 2015 election.”
Due to the continued efforts of Judson and Howie, Borderland Pride is gaining momentum, too.
The group held its first networking social in Fort Frances which drew 40 people in October, despite a snowstorm.
Now, with a date for the second social set, the duo is hoping for another crowd.
“These events are very casual. We strive to provide a safe space for attendees to meet other people from the community, to informally talk about LGBTQ2 issues, and hopefully have fun and make new connections,” said Judson. “When we say ‘safe space,’ we mean that it is a safe event to come to without fear of being ‘outed’ and also to learn, if you’re a straight ally that wants to show support. Of course — a ‘Big Gay Mexican Mardi Gras’ will also likely have beads, sombreros, and rainbow flags — so expect a festive flare, too.”
The rainbow flag is the symbol for Pride – its color bands reflecting the diversity of the LGBTQ2 community.
While smaller events are helping to build community among the Borderland Pride group, residents may see larger events taking place in the near future.
“Our goal is to have a week designated as ‘Pride Week’ by each of the respective towns and have a few events over the week to mark the occasion,” said Howie.
Though the events are a work in progress, Judson and Howie envision a flag-raising or two, a march, barbecue, open mic night, storefront decorating contest, and a pub night or event that involves local Gay-Straight Alliances.
“People should know that the Pride events you’ll see in most smaller communities looks a lot like any other family-oriented festival, fair, or picnic,” said Howie. “Pride in a small town is mostly about showing that our community is vibrant and diverse, open and welcoming, and about building bridges between different identities, cultures — and in Borderland — nationalities. It is so critically important that people who are LGBTQ2-identifying see allies in their midst.”
“This year is our maiden voyage, and it is a fateful one,” added Judson. “We know there are bound to be a few challenges ahead as we try to get our events off the ground. Our current focus is event planning, but hopefully through that process we can also identify people in our community who will help the organization move into developing further local resources and supports to LGBTQ2 individuals and their loved ones.”
To learn more about Borderland Pride’s upcoming events or about the group as a whole, email to firstname.lastname@example.org or ‘like’ Borderland Pride on Facebook to stay up to date on relevant news.
Borderland Pride is not incorporated or organized in any ‘official’ capacity, but plans are being made to formalize the group by the end of the year.
This article originally appeared in the International Falls Journal.