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Let’s Chat About Windsor-Essex Pride Fest

Pride Fest

Welcome friends, grab yourself a ‘Cup of Joe’, pull up a chair and let’s chat about Windsor-Essex Pride Fest 2016….

At a recent City Council Meeting his Worship, Mayor Drew Dilkens, officially proclaimed August 3rd to the 7th PRIDE FEST. In the full proclamation the mayor said the following,

Windsor City Council is dedicated to the provision of human rights for all its citizens and the eradication of discrimination based on sexual orientation; and Windsor’s LGBTTIQ community celebrates the diversity of all of Windsor’s residents by organizing a festival for all citizens and visitors to enjoy; and 2016 marks the 24th year of the Windsor-Essex Pride Fest; therefore, I, Drew Dilkens, Mayor of the City of Windsor, do hereby proclaim AUGUST 3- 7, 2016 LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, TRANSGENDER, TWO-SPIRITED INTERSEX AND QUESTIONING PRIDE CELEBRATION OR PRIDE FEST.

The year 1984 will always be a significant one for me for a number of reasons. That was the year that I experienced the second World Series Championship in my lifetime by my beloved Detroit Tigers. The first one came 16 years earlier in 1968 when I was just 16 years old. I’m still holding out hope to see another two or three before my time runs out ….

But 1984 was significant for me on a more personal level because that was the year I finally mustered the clarity of personal insight, the courage, and the strength of will to ‘come out’ publicly as a gay man at the age of 32. As I look back over my life I now realize that my sexuality and identity as a gay man had always been there, but had been repressed by me for religious, family, and societal reasons.

Coming out of the closet” is an expression describing that process and/or the moment when a gay person finally starts living life as who they truly are. For some it can be a terrifying and frightening experience if the necessary support systems are unavailable for them. But for others, coming out of the closet can be a liberating and life transforming experience. I was fortunate to have the latter experience, largely due to the loving friends and family in my life.

Since coming out I have had different levels of involvement within the Windsor LGBTQ (my abbreviated version) community. Ten years ago I was part of the first Board of Directors of the newly incorporated non-profit “Windsor Pride Community” and served as its first president. Today it has been rebranded under the name “Windsor Pride Community Education and Resource Centre” with an office at 421 Pelissier. It’s mission is:

  • to educate and increase public awareness and understanding of the diversity of biological sex, gender identity and sexual orientation;
  • to provide information, courses, seminars and workshops about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Two Spirited, Intersexual, Queer and questioning (LGBTIQ) communities;
  • to train teachers, school administrators, social workers, health and home care providers, as well as the business community on the needs of LGBTIQ communities;
  • to operate a community, educational and resource center for the LGBTIQ communities and the public; which offers a resource library and operates as a drop-in centre for LGBTIQ seniors and youth.

The first active and organized voices of the LGBTQ community in Windsor trace their roots as far back as 1971 when gay pioneers Steve Lough, Jim Davies and Harold Desmarais established the Windsor Homophile Association on the University of Windsor campus. In 1973 this association moved off-campus and into the city proper operating under the name of Windsor Gay Unity.

A fascinating and in-depth look into what the LGBTQ life has been like in Windsor over the decades is presented in the book, Out and Aging: Our Stories, edited by Barbara Zarzosa. It is collection of personal, retrospective (and introspective) accounts by a number of ‘elders’ in the community about growing up gay in Windsor. I am privileged to be one of the contributing elders that form this tapestry of our individual and collective story. The book formed the basis of a subsequent film documentary as well as stage play that was performed at the Capitol Theater, directed by Chris Rabideau.

Windsor Pride Community exists to educate and provide outreach in terms of resources, support, and advocacy for the LGBTQ community and the community at large. In addition to the outreach component, Windsor Pride Community recognized the need to have year-long ‘fun’ or social events for its members that culminate each summer with a large Festival. So in 2011 Windsor pride community separated the festival aspect from its more traditional educational component and established Windsor-Essex Pride Fest, a non-profit organization incorporated in November 2011. It has as it’s mission:

To grow the Windsor-Essex Pride Fest into a premier event for the community and enhance its ability to become sustainable through iniitatives and events with the goal of strengthening the sense of community and contribute to the vibrancy, health and overall well-being of persons in the LGBTTQ of Windsor-Essex and surrounding communities.”

And so Windsor – Essex Pride Fest 2016 begins this Wednesday with the annual raising of the pride flag at City Hall Square at 10:30 AM flag by the Mayor of Windsor. I am privileged to participate as the MC of this event which signals not only the start of five days of celebration of who we are as a people, but more importantly, the recognition by our city of how far the LGBTQ community has come in terms of acceptance and integration into the larger community.

There are many who today still question why we need pride parades and festivals. You need to look no further than local social media to see that intolerance, hatred and threats still exists toward us – even in Windsor. After the moving vigil on Maiden Lane held in June for the victims of the Orlando massacre at Pulse Nightclub, a number of social media posts spewed forth vitriol and disgust. You may recall that even our mayor himself received an email from a resident describing the Orlando event in the most disgusting terms and criticizing the mayor for his participation in the vigil. So, there is still much work that needs to done in our city to eradicate those lingering strains of hatred and intolerance.

I invite all of you to come out and participate in this year’s Pride Fest events. This week is not just for the LGBTQ community, but for its allies, friends and family members. Come out and see the parade on Sunday or take in some free bowling on Thursday night (August 4). There are plenty of diverse activities throughout the five days to entertain both young and old.

I would love to see many of you out there with us helping us celebrate who we are, where we’ve come from and to work with us in terms of accomplishing together what still needs to be changed in our community. I might even buy you a ‘Cup of Joe’ …

For a full listing of events, times, and locations for Windsor-Essex Pride Fest 2016 check out their website.