“Pride is political”

St. John’s Pride Week festival and parade have grown “exponentially” in recent years and remain important not only as celebrations, but also as platforms for progress on gender equality, say organizers.

Despite the ongoing challenge of funding a festival that’s grown exponentially in recent years the organizers of St. John’s Pride Week say they’re excited about what they’ve lined up for the thousands of people who will take part in the various events slated for July 11-17.

This year’s festival features a range of activities, from family outings to bar socials. The annual Pride Parade and Festival itself takes place on Sunday, July 17. Flag-raising ceremonies include one at Memorial University on Monday, July 11 (at 12 p.m. in front of the Arts & Administration Building, with a barbecue to follow), one at St. John’s City Hall on Tuesday July 12 at 11 a.m., and one at the Confederation Building, also on Tuesday at 2 p.m.

A significant portion of the proceeds raised from the bar social at The Grapevine on Water Street (on Wednesday, July 13) will help fund St. John’s Pride. The social will be followed by a dance at The Factory, also on Water Street.

Organizers note the importance of acknowledging the historic and ongoing role played by gay bars in building and supporting community.

According to Tiffany Holmberg, a member of the St. John’s Pride board of directors and one of this year’s organizers, bar owners reached out to St. John’s Pride in the wake of the Orlando shootings, a gesture that reinforces the role bars have often played in creating “safe spaces for our LBGTQ community.

“That is so important, and we’re seeing that everywhere since Orlando, and I’m really excited that we have that [in St. John’s].”

A series of events is also being organized at Memorial University’s St. John’s campus. In addition to the flag-raising and barbecue on Monday, July 11, they’re holding the annual Pride Solidarity Brunch at Bitters Restaurant on Tuesday, July 12 at 12 p.m., and a Pride Week Trivia night at the Breezeway Bar on Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. Other events include a performance of Queer Uncensored on Friday evening, and a series of educational workshops throughout the week. Details and scheduled events can be found here.

Pride is Political

Despite the lineup of social events, organizers are quick to emphasize that Pride Week remains political, a lesson underscored by the circumstances which inspired the recent Black Lives Matter protest in the Toronto Pride Parade.

“Pride Week is a celebration of how far we’ve come, and also a platform to advocate for how much farther we need to go,” said Holmberg. “People need to remember that Pride is political. We’re seeing a lot of that in the country right now, and we think that our visibility, and walking in the street, and having our allies join hands with us and making our visibility as diverse as possible, is important.”

This year’s theme for St. John’s Pride Week is ‘Stronger Together’, which Holmberg says reflects the emphasis on diversity and inclusivity.

“We’re trying to make Pride as inclusive as possible. We have our trans picnic, we’re doing an inter-faith event — so we’re trying to get as many different groups in Newfoundland involved as possible.”

Kimberly Drisdelle, another board member and organizer for this year’s festival, said Pride Week also draws attention to the supports which are lacking in the community throughout the rest of the year.

“Pride Week is incredibly important, especially in Newfoundland, because we just don’t have any spaces, physical or non-physical, where LBGTQ people—whether it be youth or families or same sex couples or seniors—have an ability to congregate and socialize and demonstrate and be political. So St. John’s Pride and Pride Week carve out spaces for these events to happen, for people to come together, for folks from communities who feel like they don’t have that support, and they don’t have anyone like them, and who really need to meet people like them, to come together and meet people.”

Drisdelle said meeting new people in safe and intentional spaces is validating for many members of the LGBTQ community, but that “it’s also important because it shows the greater St. John’s community and the greater Newfoundland community that we are here and we do exist and we do take up space and we do have families, and it really legitimizes the cause — because things like Orlando can happen anywhere, and we do have a very big and thriving community and we need more funding and we need more spaces. Having people see that LBGTQ people exist as families and as consumers — I think there’s a lot of power in that both for the businesses as well as for us too.”

 Pride Week is a celebration of how far we’ve come, and also a platform to advocate for how much farther we need to go…          — Kimberly Drisdelle

The growth of St. John’s Pride Week in recent years has meant that organizing is now a year-long activity for the board of directors and its volunteers. But Drisdelle says that while moral support is widespread, financial support has been more challenging to come by.

“While a lot of people come out to events—which have grown exponentially, especially the parade and the festival—we don’t get as much financial support as we really need to be totally honest,” she says, explaining many local businesses aren’t able to offer the same degree of support as they did in previous years.

“We try to keep our sponsorships local as much as possible because I think it’s important to showcase corporations and sponsors that really do put in the work for the community year-round, as opposed to just throwing money at us and marching in the parade.”

Drisdelle says that support from municipal government is also of tremendous importance in local Pride festivals, and that the City of St. John’s “is starting to catch up” to places like Halifax and Moncton, which have more festivals and parades throughout the year and subsequently more refined policies and procedures for organizers to hold week-long events.

“We’re only the second parade that exists in St. John’s [besides the Santa Claus Parade], and so we have to go through a lot of loopholes because there hasn’t been the time for things to be developed to make it easier. So that is a big stressor. But the City is starting to catch up.”

Holmberg emphasizes that support both big and small is appreciated by festival organizers.

“Support could be anything from a business putting up a flag…to sponsorships. Whatever a business or an individual can do is great.”

Trans March highlights need for awareness, policy changes

Last year saw the first large-scale community-organized Trans March in Newfoundland and Labrador. It was organized autonomously from St. John’s Pride, by the local trans community, but intersects with Pride Week. This year, the Trans March will be held on Friday, July 15, at 11:30 a.m. It is set to begin at the War Memorial on Duckworth Street and will conclude at the Trans Picnic in Bannerman Park (which is a St. John’s Pride-organized event).

Organizers hope the March helps raise awareness of the barriers faced by the trans community in this province, and elsewhere.

“We currently have the biggest homeless trans youth population anywhere in Canada,” said Jude Cutler, a local community activist and one of the organizers for the Trans March. “We have no shelters that are accessible and safe for trans women and no community resource center. We are lacking accessibility to proper healthcare and surgery funding, [and] there is also a very big gap in trained mental health professionals that can help us even though we are very much at risk for self harm, substance abuse and suicide.”

A 2015 research study produced by the Center for American Progress and the Movement Advancement Project highlighted the fact that trans Americans are more likely to live in poverty and face precarious work experiences. “Between 13-47% of transgender workers report being unfairly denied a job, and 78% report being harassed, mistreated, or discriminated against at work,” the report stated. “Transgender workers of color report higher rates of job loss and employment discrimination compared to white transgender workers.”

Members of the American trans community are also more likely to face poverty owing to discrimination in school and in the workforce, the report demonstrated. “[T]ransgender people, along with LGB people, are more likely to report incomes of less than $24,000 per year and are less likely to report incomes of more than $90,000 per year, compared to their non-LGBT peers. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 15% of transgender respondents have household incomes under $10,000 per year, compared to just 4% of the general population.”

Cutler said this is the reality in Newfoundland and Labrador too, and indicated that other forms of discrimination can intersect with trans identity to exacerbate the negative trends.

“Most of our youth get bullied and harassed in school and most of us live well below the poverty line. We are not however one identity—many of us also struggle with the city’s lack of accessibility and disability funding. Many of us are sex workers and face unsafe work and stigma. Many of us are also people of colour and face police harassment, exclusion and racism.”

 We want to be seen and heard. We want action.  — Jude Cutler

While the Trans March is open to both members of the trans community and allies, and the public is invited to participate, the Trans Picnic at Bannerman Park is intended for those who identify as trans.

“The only event that we ask that only self-identifying folks go to is the Trans Picnic, just because the Trans Picnic is sort of a specific space that’s been carved out for transgender, queergender, nonconforming or genderfucked people who need that space carved out for them,” said Drisdelle. “It’s a space to socialize and celebrate and support each other.”

Cutler said last year’s turnout, which saw about a hundred trans folk and allies rally for the Trans March, raised a lot of energy and excitement, and is excited for this year’s event.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing all of the youth, families, and individual trans folks just come out and hopefully feel empowered, to share and plan how to keep moving forward together.

“The march…is a way for all of us to get together and raise our voices, and share stories. We want to be seen and heard. We want action.”

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