Leaders of Pride organizations across the region are mindful of safety concerns as they plan their events this month.
Kenora Pride chair Andréa Campbell said they have always had to have security for events.
“It's not new that there's a need for security,” she said. “Our flag raising this year was very, very well attended, but it was my first Pride event where there wasn't somebody hollering negativity out of a vehicle as they drove past.”
The federal government announced earlier this week up to $1.5 million for an emergency fund to help organizations cover the increasing security costs at Pride events.
“Now more than ever, as allies, as leaders, as parents, as friends, and as Canadians, we need to wake up to the reality that 2SLGBTQI+ people are facing today,” said Marci Ien, the minister for women and gender equality and youth in a news release. “We know that we need to continue combating hate in all its forms not just for during Pride, but every single day.”
Catherine Kiewning, a volunteer with Rainbow Alliance Dryden, said she’s grateful the federal government is recognizing the safety concerns.
“People have taken it upon themselves to slander or spew hate and all of this vitriol onto the 2SLGBTQI+ Community,” she said.
“Last year, our events were targeted by some bigots, not actually in our community, but they were threatening our relationships and partnerships with the venues and they were calling the police on our family-friendly event. It kind of feels very validating to kind of get this funding and this opportunity to financially address this big issue.”
Kiewning said organizations like hers have been having to deal with this every single Pride month.
“And now finally, the government of Canada is listening and responding up front with their their wallets. Money talks,” she said. “This is really, really important, especially for Prides who have been targeted like ours.”
Scotia Kauppi, the chair of the Thunder Pride Association board, said they definitely will apply for the funding, being distributed by the national organization Fierté Canada Pride, for their events in Thunder Bay this year.
“[Security is] something that like smaller prides such as us can't really afford,” Kauppi said. “The City of Thunder Bay did listen and they gave a rebate program for it. So that does help a little bit, but still the upfront costs are so high.”
Jason Veltri, the president of the Rainbow Collective, said in a conversation with Dougall Media that they are discussing increasing security patrols and erecting water barriers at the foot and ends of the streets.
“We're talking to the city about future needs, like maybe putting a bus or a dump truck at the entrances of these streets so that we don't potentially see what we've seen around the world — a car coming barrelling down the street and and killing or injuring people,” he said. “It's a real concern in our minds today.”
Kauppi said unfortunately things have gone backwards again for the community, especially our trans and gender diverse community.
“There's lots of hate being spread, lots of misinformation and bad science. Online is such a cesspool where people can have almost anonymity to say whatever they wouldn't even say in public normally and it gives them the boldness to feed off of others,” she said. “Then that turns into letting the more extreme people feel more empowered and that's where a lot of the violence and threats start.”
Douglas Judson, the director of Borderland Pride an co-chair for this year’s festival, said there is so much vitriol and violent rhetoric targeting segments of the queer and trans community, particularly south of the border, but also in Canada.
He said it's important the federal government is recognizing and responding to the issue and supporting the work Pride organizations do.
“Often when we see incidents of protest against Pride or other 2SLGBTQ initiatives, it is an attempt to shut the event down. To prevent people from going there by casting this chilling effect of, ‘Oh, it's not safe, something bad might happen,’” he said. “I think that is a way to push entire communities into the closet to make it less safe to be a queer or trans person in your community.”
He said they haven’t looked at tapping into the extra funding for security yet.
“In the past and continuing this year, we have a strong relationships and open communication with law enforcement, in part, just for practical reasons,” he said. “Our march spans an international border and we require some cooperation to make that happen.”
Campbell said Kenora Pride has been very fortunate in that the Ontario Provincial Police has not ever charged pride for the overtime and the use of their officers to do the road closure.
“But I do think that the increased hostility particularly towards the most vulnerable trans children, coming up from the United States is really shocking and does exist in Kenora,” she said.
With files from Ian Kaufman and Sheri Leviski-Kotyk, CKPR Radio