As part of Pride Week, Fierté Sudbury Pride hosted its signature Pride in the Park celebration at Memorial Park Saturday, along with their annual Pride March through Downtown Sudbury.
The event attracted crowds from within the LGBTQ community and beyond, dressed in rainbows and ready to celebrate the rights and acceptance achieved over the years, while spreading awareness for the barriers that keep people from living their lives authentically.
Sudbury's Pride events may appear modest when compared to those in major city centres, but Lee Czechowski, vice-chair of Fierté Sudbury Pride, said this could mean a far more meaningful experience for attendees.
Having recently moved from Toronto, where their pride events are organized by a giant board, committees and community, Czechowski said the opportunity to take part in a smaller pride has been an incredible experience.
"In Toronto, you walk down Church Street and it's a packed, anchovy disaster," said Czechowski.
"It's a huge party which is great and fun, but it's tough to connect with people because there are literally two million people that come to the city just for pride."
While an impressive celebration, Czechowski, who uses the pronouns 'they' and 'them', said you don't have the opportunity to connect with LGBTQ community members, local organizations, or the moms, dads and kids that come out to support their family members, as you would in Sudbury.
This familial environmental as Czechowski describes, not only fosters further understanding but demonstrates how tight-knit the Sudbury community and it's LGBTQ members already are.
"Coming out and seeing community like this can sometimes give people the courage to come out, can give people the courage to be who they are," said Czechowski.
It's important to find a community where people don't question your pronouns or identity, but accept you because they have gone through similar things, they said.
Finding this support and a desire to give back to the community is what motivated Czechowski to volunteer with Fierté Sudbury Pride in the first place.
At Fierté Sudbury Pride, we understand what it's like to feel excluded, so we aim to welcome as many people as we possibly can, said Czechowski.
To celebrate difference, Czechowski said Pride aims to offer a diverse number of events, for various ages, sexualities and identities. Even at events such as Pride in the Park, Czechowski said vendors are as diverse as attendees and their particular interests.
One booth, in particular, stood out as a place of healing for all who have experienced homophobia, transphobia, hate of other forms, or just needed a hug. Inspired by a similar movement in Pittsburg, Paul and Sherri Notman decided to offer free “Mom and Dad Hugs” for anyone seeking parental support on this important day.
The proud parents of a gay son, the Notmans said they have heard countless stories from his partners over the years, explaining what it was like to grow up without the support of their family.
"We decided this was something we could do to help," said Paul.
In just under three weeks, the couple printed banners and t-shirts, recruited the help of their friends and got their booth approved by Fierté Sudbury Pride, in order to provide the free service.
The result was an "overwhelming, touching, uplifting and heartbreaking (experience)," said Paul. "A lot of the youth that see us break down in tears, and come for some of the most emotionally uplifting and powerful hugs I've had in my life."
"Being able to let even one youth know that that they're loved and supported...makes me proud to be here," said Paul.
While Czechowski said it is heartbreaking to consider the need this service filled, it is heartwarming to consider that strangers would put themselves out there for the benefit of youth in need.
They said this is why Pride needs to remain a political statement at its core.
"Pride needs to stay political because there are still people who are being bullied and who are experiencing violence solely based on who they love or who they are," said Czechowski.