After failing to get this event off the ground in previous years, Cross Lake residents hosted their first Pride celebration July 8.
Monday’s festivities started off as a multi-pronged parade that originated from three different parts of town, with all participants eventually converging on the community’s band hall.
“It was so beautiful when all these people started showing up,” said Kevin (Gaga) McKay, one of the event’s lead organizers. “There was people coming out their houses to wave, throwing candies, saying ‘Happy Pride,’ playing loud music.”
After some opening remarks from Pimicikamak Cree Nation (PCN) Chief David Monias, the organizers handed the mic off to northern members of the LGBTQ2S community and their allies inside the band hall.
PCN council member Noretta Miswaggon says one of the most powerful speeches came courtesy of Wabowden resident Melanie McKinnon, who talked at length about her transgender son’s journey of self-discovery.
Miswaggon was also impressed with resource teacher Roy Folster, who discussed the emergence of a new gay-straight alliance at Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Resource Centre in Norway House.
Putting the well-being of LGBTQ2S youth front and centre was one of the primary focuses of this inaugural event, since Miswaggon said bullying played a big role in six youth suicides that took place in the winter of 2016.
“We had to address this and we had to just let young people know that it’s OK. There are people who will love you,” she said. “I’m hoping it brings a lot of wellness and understanding and comfort knowing there are people that love you, there is a leader that understands.”
The organizers also made room for more lighthearted activities throughout the day, like live music and a karaoke singing contest.
For McKay, Monday’s Pride event was very satisfying on a personal level, since the 27-year-old LGBTQ2S advocate has been trying to put this kind of celebration together in Cross Lake for a while now.
“I already had that vision about four years ago, way before, but I just didn’t have any support,” said McKay. “I kept going, I kept fighting and I kept telling them that we cannot keep saying that [the community’s] not ready. We’re not in the ‘80s and the ‘70s anymore.”
Cross Lake’s current chief and council turned out to be much more open-minded than their predecessors, and gave this event the green light earlier this year.
Miswaggon and McKay were surprised with how many people showed up to the band hall in general, given the ambivalence they faced trying to set up this kind of event in the past.
“Me and Kevin were in tears,” said Miswaggon. “We thought we’d have half a hall, maybe a full row of tables if we were lucky. But it was full.”
Miswaggon said they want to turn Cross Lake Pride into an annual event and make next year’s celebration even bigger by possibly moving it to the local hockey arena and inviting people from Thompson to take part.