by Shawn Forth, Muskoka Pride Committee
It is an eventful year for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community in North America.
A sitting U.S. president and a majority of Americans now support marriage equality in polls. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the “Defense of Marriage Act,” clearing the way for federal marriage equality rights. The Boy Scouts of America now allow openly gay youth. In Ontario, we have the first openly-gay Premier in Canada. These are important events that few would have seen as possibilities just 5 years ago.
Recently, I had my “Ellen Degeneres moment” in a newspaper interview last month and it’s apparently now common knowledge that I’m gay. With my sexuality now public knowledge comes the flood of questions about LGBTQ topics. My personal favourite is: “Why do we even need Pride?”
In Canada the LGBTQ population has federally recognized marriage equality rights, job and health protection, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Locally, the towns of Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, and Huntsville have been extremely supportive of Muskoka Pride. The Town of Bracebridge is one of our title sponsors this year and the Gravenhurst Chamber of Commerce has been making great headway on a “diverse & welcoming” campaign to encourage LGBTQ tourists. All three towns are once again raising the Rainbow Pride flag in recognition of Muskoka Pride Week to show their support to Muskoka’s diverse community.
According to PFAG Canada: 90% of LGBTQ students have experienced bullying; they hear over 20 anti-gay slurs per day; 26% of them have been asked to leave their home and are more likely to become homeless; 30% of teen suicides are LGBTQ; 43% of trans-identified persons attempt suicide. As long as terms like “that’s so gay”, “dyke”, and “fag” are used as putdowns online and in the school yard, there is most certainly a need for Pride. LGBTQ youth need positive role models. Pride celebrations allow a safe space to build those connections within the community.
This year Muskoka Pride approached the Townships of Lake of Bays, Georgian Bay, and Muskoka Lakes to host Rainbow Flag raisings. The results were: rejected, ignored, and voted-down a proclamation policy. Apparently some factions in the rural communities of Muskoka aren’t ready for the “big-town” ideas like being “diverse and welcoming.”
Next year Toronto is hosting World Pride 2014 and over 1.5 million visitors are expected, along with their dollars to spend. Muskoka can show ourselves to be diverse and welcoming, and entice some of those disposable incomes to drive 200 km north. Half of the participants to last year’s Muskoka Pride Picnic travelled more than 50 km to get here, and they brought their tourism dollars to spend in Muskoka. Celebrate our diverse community and welcome this year’s visitors to Muskoka
Muskoka Pride advocates for and brings recognition to the LGBTQ population. Awareness and acceptance is vital for LGBTQ youth and it makes good business sense. Come out and show your support at the Muskoka Pride Week events, July 20-28. Happy Pride!