BJ Maggrah says it’s an idea whose time has come for Dryden.
Maggrah and The Dryden Gay Pride Committee are rallying support for a two-day event that would include a bowling tournament, a parade, guest speakers, a fashion show and a social among others.
The first annual event would take place June 27-28, 2012.
Maggrah says gay pride events are typically scheduled at the end of June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots — a series of demonstrations against a 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay friendly establishment in New York City. The incident is considered by many to be the birth of the gay rights movement.
After 43 years of progress for gay rights in North America, Maggrah says a small lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community in Dryden is still living mostly underground and out-of-sight.
“As far as gay rights have been concerned a lot has been accomplished,” said Maggrah. “We don’t go to jail for it anymore, we have the right to same-sex marriage. However, LGBT people in small towns face a lot of stigma and often a hostile atmosphere.”
Aware of his own same-sex feelings at age 10, Maggrah says his childhood spent in Ear Falls and later Dryden was difficult. Coming out to friends and family at age 23, he says being openly gay in a small town still has its share of difficulties. Maggrah says gay youth in rural or isolated communities need more support than they’ve traditionally received.
“This whole event is about trying to educate the community about who we are, the problems and issues we face and what we all can do about it,” he said.
One of the Dryden event’s guest speakers will focus on issues surrounding the northern LGBT experience. After her gay son Gabe faced abuse at the hands of his fellow students, Lakehead School Board staffer Ellen Chambers Picard launched a five-year campaign to make Thunder Bay schools inclusive, safe and welcoming to LGBT students. Along with former Pinewood teacher and Dryden resident Rachel Mishenene, they recently organized Thunder Bay’s first Pride event this year.
Maggrah says the committee hopes to gain the blessing and support of Dryden city council and aims to see the rainbow flag, symbolic of the LGBT community, raised at City Hall during the event.
Maggrah says he is under no illusions that Dryden is indeed a fairly conservative community. While he’s sure it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, he hopes Dryden reacts in a positive manner to what the pride committee is hoping to do.
“What I hear the most is, ‘what do I tell my kids?’,” said Maggrah. “That part of it is difficult and very complex, I won’t deny it. But it’s almost unavoidable these days. And if I had a parent, or someone that told me it was okay to be who I am, I would be much a better person today for it.”
“Another thing I hear is, “So you’re gay, why parade about it? The reason I give for that is because of what we’ve been through. We’re embracing where we came from. It’s a day where we celebrate and look back on the people who fought for our rights.”
By Chris Marchand