Muskoka Pride Week runs from July 17 to 25 this year and the 11-day event schedule offering drag shows, mini golf and more kicks off with a sunset cruise on Lake Rosseau this Thursday.
Muskoka’s Pride celebrations usually include a picnic and parade that draw over 1,000 people, but with COVID restrictions still in place, this year’s celebrations will offer a mix of virtual events and events with reduced capacity. Muskoka Pride board member Shawn Forth said it’s important that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) community get a chance to combat isolation and foster inclusion through in-person gatherings while still respecting public health guidelines.
“We are following our model from last year very much so, which is a combination of some events that are virtual and some that are in person but socially distanced,” Forth said. “We’re lucky here in Muskoka we have enough space to be able to have the social distancing that often can’t happen in larger cities like Toronto and Barrie.”
In-person events will include the second annual Pride boat parade at Six Mile Lake, Pride night at the Muskoka Drive-In, two different drag shows and a Rainbow Road driving tour through Muskoka. With Ontario set to move into Step Three of reopening on July 16, gatherings like the Bracebridge coffee social will be able to host more guests than initially expected.
After many months of only gathering over Zoom and other virtual platforms, some people in the Muskoka Pride community were able to get together for an in-person coffee social in the park last month. They were limited to just 10 people, but after a long winter apart, the meet-up was a breath of fresh air.
“I honestly had forgotten how much I missed seeing other people’s faces after seeing them in a little box on my computer screen on Zoom,” Forth said. “It really does make a huge, huge difference to be able to have that face-to-face interaction. During the pandemic, a lot of us who live alone have really felt isolated, and it just really brings to the forefront the importance of creating these LGBTQ+ safe spaces so that people can gather and network with others.”
Alongside the in-person events, participants can also get involved virtually with live streams of local flag raisings, an online Pride service from Port Carling Valley United Church and a virtual workshop performance of the play Angels in America, which focuses on the impacts of the AIDS epidemic.
As one of the 26 people involved in the first Pride picnic in Muskoka in 2009, Forth has seen the size and visibility of local Pride events grow over the years. While rainbow visibility is still relatively new for the Muskoka community as a whole, Forth said that overall the response has been one of welcoming, acceptance and inclusion in communities across the region.
“Muskoka’s always proud of the fact that we’ve had quite a wide diversity of people taking part in our events, whether it’s kids as young as two and three up to people in their retirement years,” Forth said. “It is quite a wide range, and we want everyone to feel included. We have many, many families and straight allies who take part in our events.”
Heading into the 13th year of Muskoka Pride events, organizers are thankful for the chance to gather despite the many roadblocks brought on by the pandemic, and they look forward to once again holding their parade and picnic, hopefully in 2022.
“Muskoka Pride events this year are going to look different,” Forth said. “They are smaller in nature, but we still want people to be able to safely gather and anyone, no matter how they identify, are welcome to attend any and all of our events.”