The evening started with a smudge ceremony and a set of rules.
Cellphones had to be muted.
Only one person was allowed to speak at a time.
And comments were only to come from a place of respect and focus on the desired outcome.
That was the backdrop as representatives from various Pride organizations across Simcoe County and members of the LGBTQ community came together earlier this week to talk about issues within the community, some perceived lack of support, a lack of collaboration between some local LGBTQ organizations and the future of Pride in Barrie.
Organized by Fierté Simcoe Pride and moderated by Heather Hay, president of Fierté Canada Pride, the two-hour roundtable discussion had attending members from Fierté Simcoe Pride, Innisfil Pride, the Gilbert Centre and the Borden Pride Network as well as about 30 members of the local LGBTQ community.
“I hope that tonight, in my professional capacity, I’ll be able to hear what our community’s concerns are and hopefully be able to respond. On a personal level, I hope to have some clarity on where we are,” said Orillia's Brandon Rhéal Amyot, president of Fierté Simcoe Pride.
Conspicuously absent was a representative from Barrie Pride, although they were invited to the event. While efforts were made to not discuss groups that weren’t in attendance, frustration with a lack of transparency by the organization did make its way to the table.
“We can’t talk about this community because they’re not here. They’re never here,” said one frustrated attendee.
Another person, who said he had recently moved to the Barrie area, said the divisiveness in the local Pride community has led him to seek a community outside the area with The Rainbow Club of South Georgian Bay.
“I think both organizations (Barrie Pride and Fierté Simcoe Pride) have made mistakes. You have people trying to do the same thing,” he said. “The sad part is, I don’t care who does it.”
To read our story on the recent controversy between Barrie Pride and Fierté Simcoe Pride, click here.
The attendee said he had read the proposal for collaboration put forward by Fierté Simcoe Pride, and found it off-putting.
“That was an aggressive proposal,” he said. “You have to do it in a way that will make (Barrie Pride) want to come to the table.”
Fierté Simcoe Pride board member Jason Hurdle said that FSP had received multiple emails and complaints from members of the LGBTQ community who had contacted Barrie Pride asking questions, only to be told they wouldn’t be answered, which is what led to the proposal in the first place.
Representatives from Barrie Pride did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.
Co-founder of Innisfil Pride, Amanda Wattie, was in attendance and fielded questions about the format of Innisfil’s first Pride parade, slated for July 27.
While the festivities are free to attend this year, there will be a charge to attend in future iterations, which rubbed some attendees of the meeting the wrong way.
“Pride started as a protest. You’re asking queer people to pay to protest? I take issue with that,” said one attendee.
Wattie cited the cost of putting on the parade and events as part of the reason for the charge, but added that the group is trying everything they can to get corporate sponsorships and donations from businesses to offset the costs instead.
She also added that final decisions about future costs have not yet been made.
Toward the end of the meeting, Hay brought the conversation around to the future of Pride in Barrie.
“Are there things you want from Simcoe Pride?” she asked. “Where would you like to go?”
Barrie City Coun. Keenan Aylwin was in attendance and participated in the discussion, saying he would like to see discussions continue after Pride festivities are completed.
“We must be willing to have the uncomfortable conversations and create space for the hard truths,” Aylwin said. “Without them, we will not grow.”
When going around the room, there were many ideas floated by attendees, including adding more safer spaces during Pride (and year-round) that do not focus on alcohol and partying, the addition of an inclusive pride calendar with information about local Pride events in one spot and that pressure should be put on the city to update its permit process, as attendees felt the current process contributed to problems with scheduling of Pride events this year.
Many attendees said they would like to see the community move forward with positivity.
“I’d really like to see a truer sense of community. People coming together, which is what Pride strives for,” said one attendee.
“I’d like to see us walk away from toxic positivity culture,” said Keegan Hobson, secretary and vice chair for Fierté Simcoe Pride. “It’s really important to talk about the hard things and I think, without that, we don’t have a leg to stand on.”
Fierté Simcoe Pride events are slated to take place from July 29 to Aug. 11.