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'Love is love' isn't enough when hate is on the march

The following are the remarks delivered by Douglas W. Judson on behalf of Borderland Pride at the 2023 Pride March from International Falls, MN to Fort Frances, ON, on June 10, 2023. Check against delivery.


Good afternoon and Happy Pride!


My name is Douglas Judson. My pronouns are he/him. I am here with Peter Howie. We are the co-chairs of the 2023 Pride Month festival.


I want to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered today in Treaty #3 territory, which is the traditional land of the Anishinaabe, in which the Métis people share history. We thank the many Indigenous communities of this region for caring for these territories and sharing them with us in peace.


Today, it is wonderful to gather once again as a community to walk together, in solidarity, in support of 2SLGBTQIA+ community members and our values of equity, diversity, and inclusion of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.


As many of you will know, we had been unable to hold a cross-border Pride March for several years due to the pandemic. But as we continue our work to recognize the dignity and value of all members of our community and to build figurative bridges between members of our community, today we were again able to cross a literal bridge too, in celebration of that unity of purpose, and to recognize that our sense of Pride knows no borders – no borders of nationality, of gender, of faith, of colour, or of ability.


But if those most basic, human values know no border, the sad reality is that, increasingly, the hate campaign targeting those values knows no shame or limits.


As we walk together today, there are, all around us, forces of evil on the march too – emboldened by unscrupulous cable TV hosts, felonious ex-presidents, and power-hungry Florida governors whose polling data shows them that you – queer and trans people and your families – are a convenient political target for their ambition. Dozens of U.S. statehouses are adopting legislation intended to erase – if not exterminate – trans people and the drag community from public life. Their anti-trans rhetoric, in particular, is going to cost people their lives and ruin lives. They know, and they don’t care.


Many of these anti-trans bills target children, supportive educators, and parents. Incidents of anti-2SLBTQIA+ violence and violence targeting Pride events, drag story events, and members of our community are also at unprecedented highs, spurred on by online misinformation and conspiracy theories. The dog whistle support from some corners of the Canadian conservative movement are deeply troubling, and foretell what is to come.


I can tell you that in our legal practice, we are busy fighting for members of the queer and trans community who have been defamed as pedophiles on the internet, and using our experience with the homophobia in our own backyard, at Emo town council, to support Pride organizations confronting bigotry from governments and school boards across the province. Not far away, just this week in Neebing, a parent posted online about how seeing the Pride flag at their municipal office might have saved their child, who had tragically taken their own life some years earlier.


That should tell you that these affirmations of support matter and they save lives by showing visible symbols of safety and welcome for people in their most vulnerable moment. And yet, still today, three years after our protest in Emo and our ongoing human rights claim, many communities of the district continue to have elected leaders that would apparently prefer to have dead kids in their community than kids that see their community leaders support them for who they are. They would also prefer to spend tens of thousands in taxpayer money to defend their bigotry rather than do the most basic thing to support you and your children.

The recent resurgence of this hate in Canada is not a coincidence. It is directly influenced by the rise in dangerous far-right political rhetoric online and south of the border – people of influence are telling the bigots that they can get away with it. They’re getting a free pass. That’s what happens when the Florida Panthers pander to the bigotry of the Stahl brothers or major brands roll back even the most basic Pride marketing to appease far-right political factions – they validate even more extreme voices.


We are not immune to versions of this in our own community. Borderland Pride has made a point of putting drag at the centre of our lineup because of what has happened here. What I want to share with you today is that the reason that drag is not returning to the Fort Frances bass tournament is because a local sponsor threatened to pull its support if they allowed drag performers back on their stage. That has been confirmed to us by multiple sources. No explanation has been given to us by the bass tournament board – at least none that I will dignify by repeating here.


We are trying to meet this negativity with something positive, and we have set out to support the drag community, but also to demystify and normalize drag for those who unacquainted. That’s why we have three drag events this year, and why we are using our drag show to raise money for the splash park, and why our drag story event tomorrow is free for all to attend.


This is the type of hard work that is required of our community and its allies to confront hatred and political attack.


My challenge to all of you today that as you think about how you, your organization, or your business could better support queer and trans people, get comfortable being assertive. Be more vigilant, unrelenting, and strong in your advocacy. Vote for people who support our community, and vote with our wallets and refuse support to those who would wish or enable harm to the ones you love. Give a dose of tough love to those in our families or workplaces who start spewing nonsense about 2SLGBTQIA+ people. And most of all, ensure the space we provide to one another is safe.


This isn’t a call for education. It’s 2023. The people who hate us don’t need education. They need to be exposed and to face economic and political consequences.


I realize that this rendition of Pride doesn’t sound so “happy”, but the reality is that “love is love” isn’t enough right now. Pride needs people to fight for it. Pride needs you every day. We need more than fair-weather allies and rainbow-washed corporate logos.


That is why the theme of our festival this year is “Pride Awakens”. We want to respond to this difficult moment the 2SLGBTQIA+ community is in and awaken your determination to build a more inclusive and safe community for 2SLGBTQIA+ people. We want to awaken stronger allies and confidence to self-actualize for queer and trans members of our community. We want to awaken and focus your rightful anger so that we can send the strong message that the community we live is a community for everyone, and we will accept no less.


What I will leave you with is that you can start – tonight – by coming to our event tonight at the Memorial Sports Centre and standing with the drag community in its time of need. Doors open for general admission at 7 PM and tickets are available at the door if you don’t already have one.


Thank you, again, for being here with us today. Thank you to our many sponsors and event partners for making this years’ events possible.


Thank you. Miigwetch.

Photo courtesy of the Rainy Lake Gazette.

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