There almost wasn’t going to be Pride in the Ontario township of Emo this year.
The municipal council rejected a resolution to recognize June as Pride month and fly a rainbow flag in community of 1,300 near the Ontario-Minnesota border — but people came together anyway to celebrate its LGBTQ community in an entirely fabulous way.
Over 70 vehicles carrying hundreds of people and rainbow flags showed up for what was playfully dubbed an “ambush” of Emo, organized by Borderland Pride, an umbrella organization representing LGBTQ Pride events in several northwestern Ontario communities. Following physical distancing guidelines, the parade convoy of elaborately decorated vehicles wove through Emo’s streets on Saturday afternoon.
Borderland Pride co-chair Douglas W. Judson said the event was an overwhelming success in showing that rural communities aren’t as “backwards” as some politicians might give the appearance they are.
“It exceeded our wildest expectations,” Judson told HuffPost Canada. “It was really something to have people care that much about sending this message about the need for pride in small communities.”
There were photo booths, free flags and prizes in categories like “Emo Fair Queen 2020” and “Mask for Masc” — for a masculine person wearing the best face mask, of course. Many attendees lived in the area, while others drove over three hours from surrounding communities like Thunder Bay and Windsor to celebrate Emo’s LGBTQ community.
In May, Mayor Harold McQuaker voted against the resolution, along with two of the township’s four other councillors. He argued that it wasn’t necessary to fly a flag for Pride month since there’s no flag being flown to represent “straight Pride.”
“We have one flagpole and there’s no flag being flown for the other side of the coin,” McQuacker said during the meeting. “There’s no flags being flown for the straight people.”
McQuacker did not return HuffPost Canada’s request for comment.
Judson, who is a municipal councillor in nearby Fort Frances, Ont., grew up in Emo and still has strong ties to the community. He said the support from residents and businesses of the “ambush event” and of Pride in general has been overwhelming.
“This was like something that brought joy to our community during a time when, frankly, we’re all kind of starving for a bit of human connection,” he said. “That’s part of the exercise of Pride is that in some ways we have to really push the envelope.”
Human rights challenge
He said Borderland Pride, with Northern Ontario Pride Network, is moving forward with a human rights challenge of the Emo township’s refusal to recognize Pride.
The complaint filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario alleges discrimination by Emo municipal council and seeks an apology from the municipality. It asks that the mayor and two councillors who voted against recognizing Pride undertake training at their own expense on diversity, inclusion, and human rights, with a focus on LGBTQ issues. Any money awarded by the tribunal would go towards Pride and LGBTQ2 inclusion programming in the Emo area, said the complaint.
“In this day and age, it is unheard of for an Ontario municipality to defy the law and to refuse to recognize Pride in such a plainly discriminatory manner,” said Northern Ontario Pride Network executive director Greg Lawrence in a statement.
Judson said he hopes the way people came together in Emo inspires other LGBTQ people and allies to organize and be proud in their own communities.
“It’s through these efforts that I think we move the dialogue forward,” he said. “I hope that our disagreement with this municipality will give life to some broader discussion and reflection and other communities like this.”