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pride london 560Photo courtesy of Pride London Festival.

Editor's Note: The original version of this story stated the London event as happening on June 29 when in fact it's happening on Sunday, July 29. The article has been corrected.

Hub Staff

The news that Saugeen Shores will be raising the Pride flag during the first week of June 2018 reached former Port Elgin resident and current Pride London Festival Vice-President Matt Wannan. In a letter addressed to Saugeen Shores councillors and Police Chief Mike Bellai, Wannan requested that he, along with Pride London Festival President Andrew Rosser, be present at the flag raising ceremony citing it as a “momentous moment” in his life.

During March 12 Committee of Whole discussions Deputy Mayor Luke Charbonneau drew attention to the correspondence saying that he personally enjoyed reading Wannan’s letter and hoped that he would be informed of the date of the flag raising ceremony. “It would be great to have him there,” said Charbonneau to those in Council Chambers.

In an interview with Saugeen Shores Hub, Wannan said he lived in Port Elgin until 1996 when he moved to London to attend Western University. During the summer months when he wasn't in school Wannan worked for the then Beacon Times and still visits family and friends in the area during holidays and summer months.

In his letter to Saugeen Shores Council Wannan invited councillors, the Chief of Police, the local LGBTQII community and allies to join Wannan in London on Sunday, July 29 for their Pride parade and festivities by way of a free bus. “I'll drive it myself if I have to,” he later added. “We (London and the Pride London Festival) would be honoured to have LGBTQII people, their friends, family, allies and those with a desire to participate from Saugeen Shores travel to London and attend the festival. I personally want to meet every single one of you and will be the first person you see when you get off the bus.”

Wannan also offered the idea of raising the Saugeen Shores Pride flag once more on July 29 to help commemorate the London festival. “Start by knowing that if by raising a rainbow flag makes a scared young person feel included, then it was worth saving a life. It literally comes down to that,” he said. “It goes further than sexuality; it comes down to inclusivity. Be vigilant and support those who despair. When you reach out to get to know someone you perceive as "different" than yourself, you enrich your life, you surround yourself with creativity, you become a stronger and more interesting person. I've never questioned how deeply communities like Saugeen Shores care for each other. That's evident in the families and friendships that exist there.”

Wannan also suggested that local businesses and safe spaces within the community could show their inclusivity in many ways: by hanging a Pride flag or participating in a parade, or by organizing a speakers’ night, a party or support group meetings. “Encourage school board superintendents and school principals to be educated on LGBTQII issues. Encourage public libraries and community places to be safe spaces for LGBTQII individuals. If you're a business, put a rainbow sticker in your window. Be a friend. Listen. Show that you care,” he said. “I’ve never looked back and thought that Saugeen Shores was intolerant or that rural areas are specifically less progressive or more intolerant than urban areas. I defend rural communities. I'm especially proud of the values that growing up in Saugeen Shores instilled in me,” he added.

The Vice-President of the Pride London Festival said there is still ongoing challenges the community faces but in the current moment he is focused on challenging divisiveness in the LGBTQII community. Wannan said there is a struggle to ensure that all parts of the community are supported. “For example we can do so much more for Indigenous people who identify as two spirited,” he said, remarking that prior to colonization two spirited people (II) were revered within Indigenous communities. “Fast forward through 150 years of residential school education and they've been left marginalized and victims of homophobia,” he said.

Wannan said that Pride festivals should not be a vehicle to demonstrate privilege but rather a call to action “to ensure that we always work harder and do more for all people. Discrimination is far from over: rural, urban, for people of colour, for Indigenous people. There is so much work to be done, it can feel overwhelming when the fix is not easy and requires generations of work, open minds, and brave hearts,” he said.

For information about bus transportation to the London Pride event from Saugeen Shores, contact matt@pridelondon.ca.

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