A Contribution to the History of the First Sudbury Pride March in 1997

In the lead up to the Fierté Sudbury Pride elections meeting on Nov. 21st at 7 pm at the Sudbury Theatre Centre it is important we remember our history.

A Contribution to the History of the First Sudbury Pride March in 1997

Revised and Updated version, Nov. 7, 2017.

By Gary Kinsman  

I was disturbed to read the account of what led up to the First Pride March in Sudbury in 1997 on the Fierté Sudbury Pride Facebook site (see below). This Facebook site also tells us that the first Pride March in Sudbury was in 1998 even though the 20th anniversary of the march was marked this year and 1997 is the year listed under History on the website.

I have written this brief account to put in place some of the main features of what actually led up to the first Pride March in Sudbury. This narrative needs to be combined with the narratives of the other people involved that year. There needs to be a Pride history and archival project so that this history is not forgotten.

In the year before the first Sudbury Pride March a number of the people who would be involved met in the Campaign against Employment Discrimination which was the first public organizing against anti-LGBT employment discrimination in Sudbury. This Campaign was formed to support Mary Ross who experienced anti-lesbian discrimination at the Loeb store on Brady (where the Steelworkers Hall is now) and she was forced through management harassment to leave work. The Campaign included Mary Ross and her partner Roxy, my partner Patrick Barnholden and I, along with Paul Pasanen and David Musico who would all be involved in organizing the first Sudbury Pride march.

1997 was the year that the days of resistance against the Mike Harris Conservative  government — which was attacking people living in poverty, workers and many other groups — came to Sudbury at the end of March 1997. A number of us who were involved in the Days of Action against the Harris government organized by the Sudbury Coalition for Social Justice were lesbian or gay, including Mary and Roxy, Patrick and I, Paul Pasanen, and Rosa Olivaria from the Sudbury Sexual Assault Crisis Centre. We talked about how we should do something for ourselves as lesbians and gay men inspired by this mobilization of thousands of people in the streets of Sudbury for social justice. These Days of Action created the possibility for the initiative for the first Lesbian and Gay Pride march in Sudbury and we connected with Marco Thériault from ACCESS, The AIDS Committee Of Sudbury (now Réseau ACCESS Network ) to do this. We only started to organize for the Pride march about a month before the march and we held a number of meetings at the ACCESS office on Elm Street to organize for the march. Others got involved closer to the time of the march including Sheila Bianconi who helped with organizing the march on July 19, 1997.

There were major concerns raised that we would have a very small turnout for the march and that Sudbury was so “homophobic” that we might be stoned. We went out of our way to ensure that supportive straight people would be present and on the day of the march there was a large contingent of about twenty-five people from the Sudbury Coalition for Social Justice there to show their support, including people from local unions.

A die-in was held outside the office of MP Diane Marleau to both dramatize what the lack of governmental response to the AIDS crisis was leading to and to remember those who have died of AIDS. People lied down on the pavement while others did chalk outlines of them. About 300 people attended that first march in the city and it was an amazing success in establishing the tradition of having Pride marches in Sudbury and opening up more social and political space for LGBT people in the city.

I was involved in organizing the Pride marches, which slowly expanded to include other Pride events around the same time, for the next three years or so until I could not longer directly participate since I was away from Sudbury for the summers.     

Gary Kinsman

“Pride celebrations in the Greater City of Sudbury are a longstanding tradition. For more than 16 years Downtown Sudbury has hosted a variety of events in mid July. Our movement sprung from humble beginnings. A small, but dedicated group of people including Tom Reid, Paul Pasanen, and several others had been holding dances and decided that they should join the pride movement by coming together to form a pride march through downtown Sudbury. There were about 200 people who attended this event, which was the first of its kind in the north.” https://www.facebook.com/pg/sudburypride/about/?ref=page_internal

For a newspaper account from the time see Bob Vaillancourt, “Out and Proud, Gays Parade Through Sudbury, “The Sudbury Star, July 20, 1997, p. 1.