As the second annual Smiths Falls Pride event approaches, memories of the first event held in 2018 still bring strong emotions to its co-chairs.
Both James A e Perkins and Heather Currie Whiting fought back tears recalling an elderly man who took the time to attend the town’s inaugural Pride event despite being unable to walk. “He was in his seventies,” recalled Perkins. “He’d probably lived a lot of his life in the closet.”
The organizers also feel a variety of emotions when recalling the community’s response to Smiths Falls’ first Pride event. Hundreds of spectators lined the streets to watch the parade last year, happy to be part of the event.
“You don’t always expect that of a small town,” said Whiting. “It made me really proud of Smiths Falls that day.”
This year’s event, to be held next to the water tower at Centennial Park, is set for Saturday, Aug. 10, beginning with a parade leaving from the town hall at 5:30 p.m. Activities also include a pot luck dinner at 6 p.m. organized by Trinity United Church, and a dance party from 7 to 11 p.m. featuring the music of Starfire. New in 2018 is a brief drag performance by the members of Gender Illusions starting at 5:50 p.m..
The drag performers wanted to be part of the Smiths Falls event, despite having to head to Ottawa for a larger event the same day. “People reach out to us,” said Whiting.
“We got a lot of national news coverage last year because we’re a small town holding a family-friendly pride event,” added Perkins.
Similar events have spread throughout the region, beginning with Lanark County Pride, held in Perth for the past seven years and taking place June 1 this year. Representatives of Smiths Falls Pride showed their support by attending events held so far this year in Carleton Place, Kemptville, Brockville and Gananoque.
Gay (LGBTQ) pride parades trace their origins to events in New York City 50 years ago. In June of 1969, a gay bar known as the Stonewall Inn became the focus of a standoff between police and club patrons who decided to take a stand against official harassment. A police raid at the club triggered riots, marches and protests lasting several weeks. The first gay pride marches took place on June 28, 1970 in Los Angeles and Chicago marking the first anniversary of the raid on the Stonewall Inn.
How much has changed in 50 years? Being gay, said Perkins, “used to be considered a mental disease that could be cured.” Born and raised in Smiths Falls, he recalls the bullying and verbal abuse to which he was subjected as a high school student. Today he and his husband run the Two Guys for Lunch restaurant, and “aren’t trying to hide anything.”
Young people who identify as LGBTQ today actually asked organizers of last year’s Smiths Falls Pride why such an event is needed. “Aren’t they lucky that they are growing up in a time and place where they don’t feel oppressed,” said Whiting.
The message the organizers want to get across in 2019 is one of equality and inclusion. “We want everybody to be proud of Smiths Falls,” said Whiting. “Proud of Smiths Falls as a community, kind to each other, and proud of ourselves.
“Let’s come down and break bread together.”