The purpose of Queer Pride is the hope that someday it won’t be needed. I could list so many statistics that show how queer people are under-employed, under-housed and overrepresented with mental health crises but I’d rather share with you my story and my experiences.
I grew up in a small town in Ontario. Before I fully knew what being gay was I knew it was bad. Before I knew I was queer I was bullied for it. As a prepubescent kid, I was bullied so much for expressing “feminity” that I often thought it would be easier to not live. Growing up I didn’t get to see queer people on TV, I didn’t get to see them in real life. I didn’t think it was possible to be a queer adult and experience happiness or success. I often think about how different my life could’ve been had I been exposed to positive queer experiences at a younger age.
I moved to Fort McMurray at 18, I was just starting to come out, leaving the pressure of my small hometown I felt I could finally live as my true self. Boy, was I wrong. Just one week after I moved to Fort McMurray, there was a group of community members who tried to throw a Pride event. It would be fair to say it was less than successful as it ended with the Pride flag being torn down and burned in the parking lot.
This event didn’t stop me from coming out or being openly gay, but it added to all the internalized feelings I had from my childhood that made me be extra cautious and guard myself. I spent a long time trying to conform to the cis/heterostructures of our society. For me, it took going to Halifax for me to finally find a queer community where people could be themselves fully, openly and happily. I met people of so many sexualities, gender identities and expressions, and I learned that there was a way to live outside of the norm where you could still experience joy and success.
When I returned to Fort McMurray I came without the shame and fear that I had before. It was serendipitous that at this same time a group of community members had come together to create a Pride Festival.
Wanting to contribute, I organized the Pride After Party, it wasn’t the first drag show in town, but it was the first of what would become the Oil Royals and making drag a regular part of our community. By creating regular drag shows, we created safe queer spaces…places where queer people could come openly and meet each other. For many, it was the combination of Pride YMM and the Oil Royals that helped strengthen the queer community.
I have seen so many chosen queer families form since Pride YMM formed. In a community where not many people have their biological families, our chosen family becomes our main support system.
Since its formation, I have seen the Pride Festival grow from a small festival, and an After Party to an entire week with over 25 community events. I have seen us reach more people, and have shown them that being their true self makes them valued members of our community. I’m seeing more people feeling safe and supported enough to come out. The biggest reasons for this are open, and honest representation, creating community and advocating for equality.
Pride YMM is a small group of dedicated volunteers that are doing this good work. This year, the Pride Festival will be from June 17-25. There will be a large array of community events that include drag shows, yoga, and painting, all leading up to the main festival at the Heritage Shipyard on June 25th. The main festival will have carnival games, live entertainment, an artisan marketplace, and will be fun for all ages.
Pride is an opportunity to show the queer youth in our region that they have a community here. It’s an opportunity for queer adults to meet, and form new friendships. It’s an opportunity for allies to show up and practice allyship. Pride is an opportunity to bring our community together by celebrating the diversity that lives within our region.
About the author
Mitchel is a Métis 2 Spirit Drag Queen mostly known by their stage name Simma Downe. As Simma, they have been performing in drag all across Canada for over five years. Her campy style and larger-than-life personality have made her one to watch. She has won numerous awards and titles including a Halifax High Heel Award, a Pride YMM Leadership Award and an ACWB Buffy. As a founding member of the Oil Royals, she has helped create the drag scene in Fort McMurray. Out of drag, Mitchel is the Chair of Pride YMM, the vice-chair of RACIDE and a director for Art's Council Wood Buffalo.