Tenth annual Muskoka Pride Festival launches with kickoff party in River Mill Park

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Main photo: The Muskoka Pride board at the 2019 Muskoka Pride Festival kickoff party in Huntsville (from left) John Taylor-Morin, Glen Yacula, Jim McCuaig, Shawn Forth, Natalie Strang, Merv Taylor-Morin, Mo Oakley and Deb Davies. (Missing due to a prior commitment: Heather Claridge.)

Muskoka Pride kicked off its tenth annual festival with an afternoon party in River Mill Park on Friday, July 19. It’s the seventh year that the festival has launched in Huntsville.

Everyone was welcome to attend the event, which featured a variety of vendors and activities including a hula hoop contest, live music from the Emily Bridle band, and free hot dogs cooked up by the Huntsville Lake of Bays Fire Department.

Muskoka Pride 2019 t-shirts were being sold to raise money for events going on throughout the festival.

Mayor Scott Aitchison and local MP Tony Clement took to the stage to show their support for Muskoka Pride and help launch the festival.

The Huntsville Lake of Bays Fire Department cooked up hot dogs for the party (@portsydneyffa / Instagram)

The Huntsville Lake of Bays Fire Department cooked up hot dogs for the party (@portsydneyffa / Instagram)

A hula hoop contest was a popular activity (@muskokapride / Instagram)

A hula hoop contest was a popular activity (@muskokapride / Instagram)

The Emily Bridle band provided entertainment (@muskokapride / Instagram)

The Emily Bridle band provided entertainment (@muskokapride / Instagram)

Volunteer Kate Quinlan selling merchandise

Volunteer Kate Quinlan selling merchandise

Caitlin Griffin, Oliver Byl and Victoria Lamont from Community Living Huntsville promoted a message of inclusion

Caitlin Griffin, Oliver Byl and Victoria Lamont from Community Living Huntsville promoted a message of inclusion

Sarah Hay and Sue McKenzie from PFLAG were there to provide information about the organization

Sarah Hay and Sue McKenzie from PFLAG were there to provide information about the organization

Volunteer Michelle Emson and her wife Olena Semenova

Volunteer Michelle Emson and her wife Olena Semenova

This year’s festival theme is “Reflecting Pride”.

2019 marks the 50-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which began after New York City police raided a gay club called the Stonewall Inn in the early hours of June 28, 1969 and continued for several days. The riots were a response to continued harassment of the LGBT community by police, and the anti-gay laws of the time. The Stonewall riots are credited with starting the gay rights movement in North America. Muskoka Pride organizers are asking festival attendees to reflect on the progress that has been made in LGBTQ2+ rights over the last five decades while recognizing that there is still work to be done.

“Fifty years ago I could have been arrested just for being gay,” said Muskoka Pride board member Shawn Forth. “Right now we are really focusing on intersectionality within the Queer community. Intersectional meaning that some members of the LGBTQ+ community face two forms of discrimination, may that be gay and black, trans and black, et cetera. Us privileged middle class white members of the LGBTQ+ community need to act as allies in support of marginalized people.”

There has been significant debate within the LGBTQ2+ community in recent years about whether or not police officers should be allowed in uniform at Pride events.

In Toronto in 2017 and 2018, uniformed officers were banned from participating in the Toronto Pride Parade, a move that was sparked by a Black Lives Matter protest at the 2016 parade. This year, Pride Toronto members decided, in a narrow vote, to extend that ban indefinitely due to continued tensions between the gay community and local police. Officers can still participate if not in uniform.

Locally, however, the Muskoka Pride board believes that it is more productive to engage with police members instead of excluding them.

“By refusing to engage in open discussions with police that doesn’t allow for opportunities of ally-ship,” said Forth.

Caitlin Griffin with Huntsville OPP Detachment Commander John-Paul Graham, who said he wishes he could wear the rainbow badge at work every day

Caitlin Griffin with Huntsville OPP Detachment Commander John-Paul Graham, who said he wishes he could wear the rainbow badge at work every day

The 2019 Muskoka Pride Festival runs until July 28. Some of the most anticipated events of the festival include the performance by the Queer Songbook Orchestra at the Algonquin Theatre on Thursday, July 25, the Drag Show on Saturday July 27 at Sawdust City Brewery in Gravenhurst, and the Muskoka Pride Parade on Sunday, July 28 in Bracebridge. There are also flag-raising ceremonies across the region on July 22—in Huntsville, join Muskoka Pride members and local dignitaries at Town Hall at 11:15 a.m.

For a full schedule of Muskoka Pride Festival events, visit muskokapride.com.

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