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Windsor-Essex Pride Fest undeterred by protests, backlash

Wendi Nicholson, president of Windsor-Essex Pride Fest, at the non-profit organization's offices in Windsor on June 13, 2023. PHOTO BY DALSON CHEN /Windsor Star

From the Windsor Star

From protests against rainbow flags to boycotts of companies that have expressed support for trans issues, this year’s Pride Month has met with a previously unseen backlash across North America.

But Wendi Nicholson, president of Windsor-Essex Pride Fest, refuses to be deterred.

“We won’t have any problems,” Nicholson declared about the upcoming local festival. “Not at all.”

Nicholson said there will be no alteration of plans for the Windsor-Essex Pride Parade on Aug. 13, and its accompanying week of gatherings at Lanspeary Park.

No additional security or police presence is being considered, and the current political climate isn’t going to affect the entertainment schedule — which will include drag performers and family-oriented activities.

“Oh, heck yeah,” Nicholson enthused. “We’re actually adding events.”

“I’m really not majorly worried about protests,” Nicholson added. “We’ve had, in the past, one or two people spewing Bible quotes and stuff. But we just ignore them, and eventually, they go away.”

“If you feed into them, that’s when you get more people trying to get a reaction. But if you don’t (feed into them), they get tired of hearing themselves speak.”

Nicholson pointed out that Windsor-Essex Pride Fest has been a local tradition for more than 30 years. The city’s first Pride march took place in 1992, with only about 100 participants.

Since then, the festival has become a multi-day celebration that attracts many thousands of attendees.

Over the course of decades, progress has been apparent on a societal level for those who identify as 2SLGBTQIA+ (Two-Spirited, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, or other).

Earlier this month, Nicholson attended a number of official ceremonies held by the City of Windsor, LaSalle, Amherstburg and others, where rainbow flags and fixtures were raised and unveiled in recognition of Pride Month.

Nicholson also joined declarations of support for Pride Month by public institutions such as the Windsor Police Service and the Greater Essex County District School Board.

“It was quiet. It was all quiet,” Nicholson said. “In Windsor, we haven’t had many problems.

“We’ve taken many steps forwards.”

Windsor-Essex Pride Fest itself has worked on improving its inclusivity over the years. The latest version of the non-profit organization’s flag has stripes and elements beyond the original six rainbow colours.

Inspired by the “Progress Pride Flag,” the current Windsor-Essex Pride Fest flag features a triangle with light pink and light blue stripes to represent the trans community, as well as a circle on a yellow background to represent intersex.

Black and brown stripes represent marginalized people of colour who identify as 2SLGBTQIA+.

But Nicholson is aware there are those who aren’t fans of the flag no matter what its design — and they’ve gotten louder recently.

“You know, everybody seemed to be getting along better 10 years ago,” Nicholson said. “Nobody really made a big fuss over flags going up — until this stuff started seeping over from the States.”

Across the border in Michigan, Hamtramck’s city council voted this week to permanently ban the flying of Pride flags on public property. Council members argued that no special treatment should be given to any group — and that rainbow flags could open the door to flags of “radical or racist groups.”

Despite Nicholson’s complaint of U.S.-style politics, there have been similar recent headlines in Ontario. Prior to the start of Pride Month, two rural communities in Huron County banned Pride flags on municipal property.

Last weekend, a drag queen story time event in London’s Wortley Village turned into an angry confrontation between protesters and Pride supporters.

Nicholson said she’s heard that on June 1, student walkouts happened at certain Windsor-Essex public schools over the GECDSB’s support of Pride Month.

Public school board spokesperson Scott Scantlebury confirmed there was “some increased absenteeism” at some schools during the first week of the month — but he couldn’t say what contributed to the absenteeism.

“A parent/guardian has the right to keep their child home from school at any time,” Scantlebury noted. “We only ask that they notify the school.”

Meanwhile, the GECDSB continues its endorsement of Pride Month, describing it as “a time to honour the years of struggle, accomplishments, and ongoing pursuit of rights and equal justice for those within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.”

Nicholson said she doesn’t blame the kids. She believes intolerance and negative ideas about the Pride community are learned from adults.

“It’s the parents putting it into their heads,” Nicholson said. “Hate is not in our DNA.”

“Canada is a place for everyone — where people can be who they are and be accepted. Like we accept people coming from different countries and welcome them here.

“This is how we are, this is the way we should be.”

For more information about Windsor-Essex Pride Fest and the Aug. 13 Pride Parade, visit www.wepridefest.com.