Annual Kingston Pride Parade sees remarkable turnout

University District

Community leaders encourage continued advocacy for LGBTQ rights

Pride Parade on Princess Street on June 17.
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Nearly 1,000 Kingston residents marched down Princess Street in support of the local LGBTQ community on June 17 for the city’s 28th annual Pride Parade.

Led by an energetic trio of performers propped up on stilts, the parade included over 40 prominent associations, businesses and groups within Kingston. Attendees danced, chanted “Vote for gay love” and sang along to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” while onlookers shouted encouragement.

With leadership from Reelout Inc. — the Kingston-based queer film and video festival — the Kingston Pride Board and its volunteers put together what several participants observed to be the largest pride parade Kingston has ever seen. 

Many community leaders were in attendance at this year’s parade, including: Kingston and the Islands MP Mark Gerretsen; MPP Sophie Kiwala; Steve Ward, a local educator seeking the NDP provincial nomination in Kingston; community organizer Keith Bilow; and host of CFRC’s Gender Talk Kingston, Teresa Windsor.

“The community is out,” Bilow said, “but not just the gay community. The transgendered, free-spirited, and heterosexual communities are out.”

Gerretsen, Kingston’s first mayor to march in a Pride Parade during his 2010-14 time in office, also commented on the event’s modest beginnings and how it has evolved to include more members of the LGBTQ community.

“The first Pride Parade in Kingston consisted of about 11 people, and now to see this number of people who come out to march is extremely encouraging,” he said. 

NDP hopeful Ward discussed with The Journal the evolution of Pride in Kingston since the first parade and noted the shift towards kids becoming actively involved in the LGBTQ community.

“There’s lots of younger kids and it’s amazing. You wouldn’t have seen that [in the past],” Ward said.

“A lot of it is due to the work we’re doing in schools around equality, inclusion, and community-building. I find that kids younger and younger are coming out, whether it’s in terms of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The kids are more able to be who they are and it’s really a privilege to see.”

MPP Sophie Kiwala said the event also continues to foster more enthusiastic participants with each year.

“The one trend I have noticed is that [the parade] is increasing in size,” Kiwala said. “There are more vendors this year, more energy, and it’s a great thing.”

“I think the public reception in the community was very positive. That’s not indicative necessarily of pride or the Pride Parade itself, but its indicative of our community,” Kiwala said.

Following the parade’s return to its starting point at Skeleton Park, the consensus among members of the LGBTQ community interviewed by The Journal was that the parade successfully shone a light on LGBTQ issues. However, despite significant turnout, difficulties still lie ahead as the battle against discrimination and harassment continues particularly for those in the trans community.

“There are still people who are being harassed, being discriminated against, and this has to stop,” Gender Talk Kingston host Teresa Windsor said.

“We need to make it known that we are normal… that we are just regular people who want to live in society like anyone else. This is a good way of getting that across,” she explained. 

Windsor and Ward both claimed despite changing attitudes towards the LGBTQ community, issues such as high suicide rates, mental illness and a lack of access to support have made life particularly difficult for members of the trans community.

“One thing I see over and over again as a community activist is the lack of support for folks who are trans,” Ward said. 

Amid the great success of this year’s Pride Parade in Kingston, prominent members of the LGBTQ community warn against complacency, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a realistic perspective and working tirelessly to advocate for issues facing the LGBTQ community. 

“First, [the parade is] a political act,” Bilow said. “Some think it’s just a party — no, it’s not. It’s us saying that 10 per cent of the population is here. Accept us for who we are.  Believe in us. Love us, because love is love. Believe in us. We are your sons and daughters, we are your doctors and lawyers… we are here and we deserve all the rights and freedoms everyone else has.”

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