Story by Alisa Howlett
Organizers are out to send a message since last year’s unofficial pride walk and are excited for Belleville’s first official annual pride parade, they said.
“Belleville has had a reputation of not being particularly accepting over the however long. I believe that part of that is just left over of that’s what people believe,” said Eric Hargreaves, a forerunner on the Belleville pride planning committee.
“People just said, ‘we need to do this’. Especially after we had our walk last year.”
Local organizers held an unofficial walk last year to raise awareness in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community. They have noticed a public change in awareness of the LGBT community over the years, which is why the pride parade is coming together for the first time, he said.
Belleville will be host for its first annual pride parade on Aug. 4. Registration for the event will start at the Empire Theatre parking lot on Front St. around 10:30 a.m. The parade is expected to start at noon after Mayor Ellis reads the official proclamation. Supporters will march down Front St. and end at West Zwick’s Park.
Hargreaves said the parade is about being visible and vocal and is ultimately about relationships. If people can see the supporters out in the community having fun, they might be more accepting. He also said the parade is aimed at helping questioning youths be more accepting of their own sexuality.
“The queer community here used to be fairly invisible in lots of ways. Especially even though some people say it’s easier for young people to come out, there is still a lot of struggle there. Suicide and bullying is still really much higher for perceived sexual minorities,” Hargreaves said.
Many LGBT support groups were formed over the last few years. Hargreaves is a facilitator at Support Alternative Youth OutLoud, a group that reaches out to LGBT youth in the surrounding area. A transgender forum also stemmed from this. The Rainbow Youth Outreach is another group with a similar aim.
“So there has been lots of new groups, and with that there has been lots more awareness. With the awareness, I think, comes confidence in the queer community. And so with that sort of all culminated, the youth in particular, were just really energized by that and so have been really pushing that we do something much more public,” Hargreaves said.
Despite the growing awareness and the organizers cause, some members of the LGBT community are not as interested in the event.
Dakota Kataquapit, a local member of the LGBT community, does not plan to march in the parade. He doesn’t feel the need to even have a parade, he said.
“For all the people that think we do, go ahead. But personally, I don’t because I am fine with who I am. I don’t really need more pride, I am already prideful,” he said.
“I have accepted myself and that’s all that really counts. You don’t really need someone else to accept you in order for you to feel accepted. You just have to accept yourself in order to live your life to the fullest.”
Kataquapit said he can see the parade generating positive attention but also negative attention. He said a lot of people stereotype the queer community as being flamboyant and annoying.
“Most people don’t take into consideration all of the other lifestyles of being gay, there are so many different types,” he said.
Another local member of the LGBT community does not feel the need to identify within the community.
Bailey Clarkin was unaware of the upcoming pride parade, but thinks it is a good idea that Belleville is following bigger cities.
“It is important for everyone to show their true colours and express their sexuality,” she said.
“Just because someone doesn’t understand it or agree with it, it isn’t really something they can agree with. It’s a fact. We should all have an opportunity to express that.”
Clarkin said she hopes this event doesn’t get blown out of proportion and shed a negative light on the queer community.
“As a society we like to point out special days for certain things and do events to make things bigger than they actually are. In some instances, I think it’s a good thing, and other times not,” she said.
“I think that the people involved all have to have the same kind of mindset and the same kind of goal. When everyone has their individual vision that’s when things can go askew. But if everyone is there for the same reason looking for the same outcome then it should be a good time.”
Hargreaves and others on the pride parade committee have dedicated their time and efforts in support of the local LGBT community.
“If you don’t remain visible and vocal, you can lose all those things you’ve strived so hard for,” Hargreaves said.
“And partly, if a minority or marginalized group can gain more acceptance, I think it makes it better for everybody. The more inclusivity that we can have in our diversity the better the fabric of society. If we can be involved and open, we can save lives and improve lives.”
There will be entertainment and activities after the parade, as well as a free barbeque lunch. Information booths will also be set up in the park with supporters to answer questions. The event is being held strictly by donation.
For more information on Belleville’s first annual pride event, click here.