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'Inclusive' Orillia wins community of year award at Pride gala

Fierté Simcoe County Pride Awards annual gala honours community builders; 'The work's hard, but it's also very rewarding,' Pride official says

A special group of community builders, including the city of Orillia, was feted Saturday evening in Victoria Harbour.

The Fierté Simcoe County Pride Awards annual gala attracted about 60 people to the Oakwood Community Centre to celebrate the past year’s accomplishments and honour individuals, businesses and organization in a variety of categories.

Orillia, which participates annually in Fierté Simcoe Pride Week by raising the Rainbow Pride flag and issuing a proclamation, captured the community award over Bradford West Gwillimbury.

“If you're going to be a true community, you need to be inclusive,” said Mayor Steve Clarke, who accepted the award on the city's behalf.

“We're honoured to receive this. Democracy means having inclusive practices. We also recognize the work of Simcoe Pride to promote an atmosphere of acceptance and inclusion.”

Person-of-the-year recipient Randy Davis was taken aback by the honour.

“This is totally unexpected,” said Davis, who recently accepted the position of gay men's sexual health coordinator with the Gilbert Centre in Barrie.

Davis has become a vocal activist and advocate for people living with HIV; he was diagnosed with the virus in 2015.

“This is an event that 1 1/2 years ago I couldn't have imagined being at, let alone being on stage,” said Davis, noting he wants to get rid of the stigma and false information that often surrounds HIV.

“I have a passion for speaking my truth and sharing my story with anybody who will listen. I feel like the most fortunate person on the planet. I feel it is my purpose to be loud and proud.”

Orillia physician Dr. Marissa Rodway-Norman was also nominated for her work with Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital LGBTQ2S committee along with Barrie community organizer and activist Keenan Aylwin and Barrie native Steven Lewis, who chairs the sexual orientation and gender identity law section of the Ontario Bar Association.

The Two-Spirit Youth of Chminissing (Beausoleil First Nation) were feted in the youth category with youth leaders Terra Sandy Roy and Jesse Michael Sharma accepting the honour that recognizes their work with young people while also creating a culture of acceptance and inclusion.

“I am extremely humbled to be doing the work I am doing; being the voice and speaking for those who cannot,” said Sandy Roy, a 16-year-old who serves as the First Nation’s youth council chief.

Also nominated for the youth award was Barrie native Nelson Morgan, a 17-year-old queer/gender-queer person from Barrie. Morgan plans to begin a Bachelor of Social Work at Nipissing University this fall as a way to continue working on social justice issues.

Morgan has been an active member of the LGBTQ2+ community in Barrie over the past year, working with the Gilbert Centre both as a youth volunteer and as a member of the Gilbert Youth Board, which helps develop relevant, queer-focused programming in the Barrie and Simcoe area with events such as a queer Valentine's Day party, a youth forum and a Seeing Queerly art show.

The Borden Pride Network took home organization-of-the-year honours over the Simcoe County District School Board.

Formed two years ago to support military members and civilians who live and/or work at CFB Borden, the network meets on a monthly basis to discuss upcoming events and to address any concerns members may have. It was also instrumental (in collaboration with Fierté Simcoe Pride) in coordinating the first official Pride flag-raising at the military base in 2016.

Since then, the group has worked on a number of initiatives, including a move to have representatives speak on diversity on the CFB Borden positive space ambassador course with the mission of creating a positive and safe place for LGBTQ2SA military members.

Network co-chair Sgt. Shannon Vickery said the committee's growth has been incredible, jumping from three at its inception to more than 30 today.

“It is such a great honour to be here tonight,” Vickery said, noting it shows what people can do when they come together.

“One thing that we're very good at in the Canadian Armed Forces is teamwork. We're promoting our cause; we're promoting our network.”

The Lazy Tulip Cafe received business-of-the-year accolades. The other nominees were downtown Orillia's Apple Annie's Cafe and the Grilled Cheese Social Eatery in Barrie.

“I'm truly honoured,” said Michelle Huggins, who opened the Lazy Tulip more than six years ago, noting it's a great honour to be recognized for their efforts to offer a space in downtown Barrie that is open to all without judgment and where everybody can be true to who they are.

Fierté Simcoe Pride also handed honorary awards for the arts to artist Kent Monkman, whose work has been exhibited internationally and is widely represented in the collections of major Canadian and American museums, and aspiring musician Hunter Cascagnette, who records under the name Grumps.

Fierté Simcoe Pride president Brandon Amyot said next year marks an important milestone for equal rights in Canada since it marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality.

"But the work doesn't end here,” Amyot said. “We will continue to work. The work's very hard, but it's also very rewarding.”

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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country’s most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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