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Erin Christie,Brockville’s first gay pride walk, a resounding success

Brockville’s first gay pride walk, a resounding success
by Erin Christie. August 2, 2011

Over 200 participants marched, danced and waved their way down King Street for the city's first-ever gay pride walk. The walkers were also joined by Mayor David Henderson, city councillor Leigh Bursey, and two of the Upper Canada District School Board’s trustees, Jeff McMillan, who represents Brockville and Augusta Township, and Lisa Swan, who represents Prescott, Edwardsburgh-Cardinal and North Grenville.  - Erin Christie Photo

Over 200 participants marched, danced and waved their way down King Street for the city’s first-ever gay pride walk. The walkers were also joined by Mayor David Henderson, city councillor Leigh Bursey, and two of the Upper Canada District School Board’s trustees, Jeff McMillan, who represents Brockville and Augusta Township, and Lisa Swan, who represents Prescott, Edwardsburgh-Cardinal and North Grenville. – Erin Christie Photo

Brockville’s downtown was awash with colour on Saturday afternoon as more than 200 participants marched, danced and waved their way down King Street for the city’s first-ever gay pride walk, a ground-breaking celebration of acceptance and understanding, spearheaded by members of “Fight Homophobia in Brockville” a 218 member strong Facebook group created by local teens, Brandon Timmerman, 17 and Kaylee Villeneuve, 17.  The group explained Villeneuve, was inspired by the recent loss of their mutual friend, whom she says was bullied because of her sexual orientation. The level of severity to which she was tormented, Timmerman added, subsequently resulted in her suicide, leaving scores of students in search of a way to prevent similar tragedies.


“What we really wanted to was find a way to honour her,” said Villeneuve.

“We knew that there were a lot of people who missed her but we were still completely amazed at how fast the group grew.”
Encouraged by the group’s rapid growth, she continued, FHIB’s administration decided to organize the Walk and immediately sought out the City’s support, which they received last Tuesday when city council approved a resolution to support the event, naming Saturday Brockville’s first day of “Pride, Tolerance and Inclusion”.
The resolution, Timmerman says, was a proud moment and a significant advance for what he and Villeneuve consider to be a characteristically conservative community. And while Saturday’s walk may have raised the eyebrows of a few spectators, the event, to the pair’s immense relief, went off without a hitch.
“This was a big step for Brockville, and an amazing amount of support for a first-time event like this,” said Villeneuve, amidst the seemingly endless procession of congratulatory hugs and hand-shakes from the supporters gathered in the Leon’s parking lot after the walk’s conclusion, adding that the event also attracted gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy groups from Kingston, Belleville, Ottawa and Toronto.
“What this walk is really about is acceptance and inclusion,” said Timmerman.
“All people deserve to be accepted and loved for who they are, no matter what their gender, age, size, race, religion or sexuality, those issues are universal.”
Timmerman’s statement was later highlighted by Mayor David Henderson and city councillor, Leigh Bursey, both of whom participated in the walk, and consequently received a number of negative emails and phone calls from voters indicating their disapproval of the walk and both officials’ participation in it.
“I have received telephone calls and emails where my faith, moral fibre, and decision to support this initiative have all been called to question,” said Bursey.
“It’s unfortunate, this is event is a celebration of life, so losing a vote doesn’t, nor should it deter me or anyone else from doing what we believe is right.  And I truly believe that holding this event was the right thing to do.”
Mayor Henderson echoed Bursey’s sentiments, adding that it was precisely the negative comments that “cemented” his participation in the walk.
“People have come to accept the need to fight prejudice on the basis of race, ethnicity or gender but fighting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is more difficult and it’s not being addressed very well,” said Henderson.
“People don’t think that it’s an issue and so they don’t do anything about it, but it is an issue, and bad things happen when you don’t address an issue, when you do nothing. If anything, the negative messages prove that people do need to stand up and fight, and that’s what happened here today.”
“It must’ve been pretty scary for the kids who organized this event without knowing what the reaction would be but they did it, and I hope they keep doing it.”

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