Pride walk and more education urged by LGBTQ+ community
Special to The Lake Report
Pride needs to be celebrated beyond the month of June in Niagara-on-the-Lake with more education and visual representation – like a rainbow crosswalk, LGBTQ+ community members say.
Jordon Williams, president of Lahava Media, a travel and lifestyle company for the LGBTQ+ community, first broached the idea on social media in May, urging the town to install a Pride crosswalk in the heart of Old Town.
Williams suggests putting a Pride walk “right by the Prince of Wales,” at Queen and King streets.
The NOTL resident said a multicolored Pride crosswalk goes beyond the LGBTQ+ community, representing Indigenous and other marginalized groups as well.
“We need the Pride walk, but we also need the town to partner up with businesses and organizations to promote LGBTQ+ equality, rights, economics and tourism,” added Williams, who openly identifies with the LGBTQ+ community.
With the anniversary of the Stonewall riots on June 28, Williams said even just a temporary Pride walk for the weekend would be an important start.
The 1969 riots erupted after police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City and the uprising is seen by many as the beginning of Pride movement.
“It’s honouring the past and it’s also showing the world that we’re progressive, welcoming and inwardly we’re showing kids, LGBTQ+ youth that are mentally at risk, that you’re of value, you’re of worth,” the NOTL resident said.
“We know, in the community, where we’re wanted and if you go out of your way to do that in Old Town … wow, what a statement,” he added.
The town's inclusivity committee has endorsed the idea, recommending that the Pride walk be installed in 2022 after consultation with the town's heritage committee and the Chamber of Commerce.
It also suggests the town paint park benches in rainbow colours in each community outside of Old Town. Both recommendations go to town council next Monday.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero said she thinks “the concept of a rainbow sidewalk is wonderful and would help to demonstrate our town’s commitment to celebrating diversity and help to foster a safe and inclusive community.”
She deferred to town staff “for their expertise as to whether a temporary sidewalk is feasible at this time but certainly look forward to the ongoing discussion about a potential rainbow sidewalk in Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
An online survey on diversity and inclusion earlier this year by the town’s inclusivity committee showed 48.3 per cent of respondents believe NOTL is neither diverse nor inclusive.
Out of 173 participants, 97.6 per cent of people said they believe NOTL will benefit from increased diversity and inclusion.
When asked about racial and ethnic background, 147 people said they were of white, European descent.
Williams said the majority of the survey’s respondents are not representative of the LGBTQ+ community or people of colour.
However, all the people who took the time to fill out the survey are still appreciated because “we need those allies,” he added.
Darryl Dyball, Positive Living Niagara’s community development and education co-ordinator, sees the crosswalk and the flag as “opportunities for conversation.”
“It shows people that beacon of hope, that you know, the community is here, and it creates a presence having the flag and the crosswalk,” Dyball said.
“It’s all about continuing the education and people wanting to learn about the community,” he said.
Dyball said he works specifically with people living with AIDS and HIV in the Niagara Region with a focus on education and outreach.
“We’re not just allies standing there with a flag once a year through the month of June. We are there on the front lines with the community because we will support them every step of the way,” Dyball, 37, said in a phone interview.
He also said NOTL is putting the proper steps and policies in place like raising the annual Pride flag to show acceptance and progressiveness toward LGBTQ+ tourists and residents.
Dyball, who also works as the intake person and educator for the PrEP Clinic in the Niagara Falls Community Health Centre, was at the raising of the Pride flag at NOTL’s town hall on June 1.
“Having the Pride Flag raised in all 12 municipalities, but specifically in Niagara-on-the-Lake, just shows that people can actually plant their roots here,” he said.
“When people come to visit Niagara-on-the-Lake as a tourist destination, they’re not just seeing a one-stop-shop – this community actually embraces everyone,” the Thorold resident said.
Dyball said he feels comfortable in NOTL as a confidently out, gay man but it might be more difficult for younger people still in the closet.
Even small efforts like hotels asking for people’s preferred pronouns could help with diversity and inclusivity, Dyball said.
He also said it’s important for people to want to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community and the need to continue celebrating Pride and creating awareness.
“The library is so progressive there. They have LGBT books for the kids,” he added.
The Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library posted on Twitter promoting books in support of Pride Month on June 4.
“Our collection strives to reflect the issues, interests and people included in the sexual and gender diverse community,” said Sarah Bowers, the technical service co-ordinator at the library.
“We also prioritize purchasing books written by LGBTQ+ authors when the subject matter deals with the LGBTQ+ community,” she said.
“The library has also received grant funding to hire a student who will be helping us complete a diversity audit on our collection this summer,” she added.
“When members of a marginalized group can identify with or see themselves reflected in books and media materials, it reinforces the truth that they are seen, that their experiences are entirely valid and inherently valuable,” Bowers said.
Bowers has worked in NOTL for seven years and said the library is a space that fosters inclusion, safety and empowerment for the sexual and gender diverse community.
“Last month our virtual author talk event welcomed Andrea Bennett, a Canadian author who recently wrote a lovely book of essays that explores navigating the gender binary and gendered expectations, titled ‘Like a Boy but Not a Boy,’ ” Bowers said in an email.
“We also launched a program earlier this year, in partnership with the Niagara Falls Public Library and the Niagara Community Health Centre, called Rainbow Kids' Reading Club, which was six-week series of books to spark discussion on gender diversity and being yourself for children aged six to 10,” she added.
Bowers also said these efforts can connect people through their “shared humanity.”
“This is where visible acts of inclusion like flags and rainbow crosswalks are a great starting point. Not only does it send the message that the municipality supports folks in the LGBTQ+ community, but it also insists upon and celebrates that community's visibility,” Bowers said.
Simon Bentall, owner of the Scottish Loft on Queen Street, emphasizes,
“We welcome everybody.”
A lot of LGBTQ+ community members come into his store because they “feel safe” there, he said.
Bentall also said he likes the idea of window stickers welcoming LGBTQ+ community members and would put one on his storefront window with “no problem.”
Some stores in NOTL already display window rainbow stickers.
Tony Hendriks, owner of Hendriks Valu-mart on Queen Street, said his store has smaller permanent decals on its windows in support of the community, and a larger sign for the month of June.
“We have also a sign in our vestibule remembering Pride Month and National Indigenous History Month,” he added.
The signs and stickers have been a “subtle welcoming,” Hendriks said in a phone interview.
Hendriks also said he would love to see a Pride crosswalk in Old Town.
“I’ve seen it in other cities and I think it’s a great idea,” he added.
“These are all kind of symbols or steps that communities can take, that people can take to just show, outwardly, that they love and support everyone and they want everyone to feel welcomed and included,” Hendriks said.