[00:00:00] Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Today is the 1st of June, and it marks the start of Pride. Now I want you to imagine what you hear and what you see when I say Pride or Pride parades or marches or celebrations. I know what plays in my head.
[Ambient audio of Pride parades]
Canadian cities from Toronto to Montreal to Vancouver have some of the world’s largest and most boisterous Pride celebrations. But we also in Canada have some of the smallest. What is it like to celebrate Pride in a tiny community? In a community where you know everyone who joins the parade, you know everyone who stays home, and you also know the people who show up to [00:01:00] protest.
For young people in what are often very religious communities who have just come out or who are wrestling with that decision, what does Small Town Pride mean? What does it mean to these towns and what do these towns need to make their Pride celebrations bigger?
I’m Jordan Heath-Rawlings, this is The Big Story. Chelle Turingan is the co-director, producer, and editor of a new doc from extra called Small Town Pride. Hey Chelle.
Chelle Turingan: Hi Jordan.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Before we get into the details, um, maybe just tell me which small towns did you guys go to?
Chelle Turingan: Absolutely. So we went to, um, Taber, Alberta, uh, which has a population of about 9,000 people. Uh, we also visited Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia, and they have a population of about 500 people. And, uh, our last location was [00:02:00] in Norman Wells in the Northwest Territories, and they have a population of about 800 people.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: This documentary is fascinating, um, and I love the idea behind it. And we’re going to get into the specifics of where you went and what you saw, but can you just start by, you know, explaining in general, what is so fascinating and meaningful about Pride in small towns, Canada?
Chelle Turingan: So, um, my partner of 12 years, uh, grew up as a closeted queer teen in the mid nineties, much like myself. Uh, only she grew up in a small town, um, nestled in the, uh, in the Ottawa Valley. Um, this would have been in the mid nineties when, uh, you know, the internet and GSAs and all of that good stuff, um, wasn’t readily available to us.
And, um, in 2018, her small town, um, called Smiths Falls, celebrated their first, um, Pride event. I think it was about, 50 people, maybe that what walked [00:03:00] down their main street with their rainbow flags and, um, her mom was there and, uh, she got very emotional and I asked her if she was okay and she said, I just never thought I would see this happen, um, here in my small town. And, um, it struck me as someone who’s grown up in a big urban center, um, with a wealth of resources available to me, uh, that, that wasn’t the case for, um, other people in my generation. And, and I, it made me curious to know what was going on, um, in other small towns across Canada.
And we had seen in that particular summer, um, an uptake in a trend that a lot of small towns across the country were starting or were having like their second or third, um, Pride events. And so we saw that as an opportunity to go and try to speak to some of these folks and see what they’re doing now, and how different the work that they’re able to do is now than it was just as short as 20 or 30 years ago.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Right, and that’s kind of the [00:04:00] next thing I wanted to ask is, is this is a really recent phenomenon, right? And how, and when did the shift happen or is it just different for every town, kind of reaches the level where, you know, they can, they’re ready to take this step if that’s a good way to put it?
Chelle Turingan: Yeah, totally. I mean, I think there’s a lot of factors involved, right? It’s like you can have, um, like take a look at, uh, some of the towns in our documentary, like Norman Wells has a population of about 800, Annapolis Royal has a population of about 500. Um, but they had the, the, the people and the willingness to get the work, um, the important work done there.
Um, and then you have a place like Taber, which has a population of 9,000 people. And, you know, they, they also have their, their communities that are trying to break through, but then, um, you know, they, they receive a lot of resistance from their, uh, their local council, um, some of the other people in their community.
And so, you know, size doesn’t really, it’s not like there’s a threshold where you [00:05:00] hit, “Oh, okay. We’re at this population, and so now this is something that we can do.” I think a lot of these changes are happening organically and we just wanted to highlight the work that these people are doing. It, it doesn’t look unlike a lot of the political activism that, um, you know, the bigger cities have done like in the seventies and eighties.
And I found that, um, that comparison, uh, and the similarities, they are very interesting. I think like most things in small towns, the change just comes there a little bit later. Um, and so they seem to be experiencing, um, kind of that, that see change now it seems, which is fantastic. And you know, I think part of making the film is to draw attention to these small places. Um, and to let these communities know that, you know, they’re supported by us, and by everyone.
Um, I think a lot of people too, can, I think there’s a lot of people, especially in Canadian experience, um, much like my [00:06:00] partner who grew up in small towns and then, um, move into big cities, and, um, because they think that that’s perhaps the only option they had, but that’s, you know, we wanted, we wanted to showcase that these small places are trying to create inclusive spaces, not everyone has the privilege or the, the resources to leave their towns. And so, you know, they’re staying and trying to make these places, places where they feel safe, not just for them, but for generations that come after them.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Can you tell me more about how these events are similar to the earlier Prides in the big city? We had, uh, Xtra’s editor in chief, Rachel Giese on the program, I think a couple of years ago to speak about how well Pride in places like Toronto or New York is now like this huge colorful celebration. Its roots are in protest, right?
Chelle Turingan: Yes, absolutely. And you can certainly see that in these smaller Pride events. I mean, obviously the scale is much smaller there, the attendance is much smaller. [00:07:00] Um, you know, they’re, most of the time, if they’re having a Pride march or parade, um, you know, they’re just, they don’t have like this huge Yonge Street to walk down. Um, and so it’s, it’s them walking down the main street that they’ll have to go to, you know, Monday morning to, to, to run their errands and pick up their groceries and run into their neighbours.
And, uh, I think it’s not uncommon now to see the big urban centers be highly commercialized. Like, you know, the millions of people in attendance, um, many sponsored floats, um, by huge corporations. Um, and in these smaller places, you know, it’s, it’s 16 year olds marching with their, you know, with their GSA and their homemade signs that they made in class, which is really a very powerful thing to see.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: I was going to ask you about that, about how does it change the dynamics in a small town of choosing to attend, uh, whether or not you identify as, you know, LGBTQ [00:08:00] too, but choosing to put yourself out there when everybody knows who you are and you know, everybody who’s going to see you and, you know, the sizes of some of these marches that you show in the doc, there’s no blending into a huge crowd, right? Like everybody knows it’s you, you know, who’s there and who’s not.
Chelle Turingan: Absolutely. I think, um, Zeynep says that right in the first few minutes of the film in that, um, and I think she had it right on in that, you know, some people find comfort in the anonymity of big city Prides, right? Like oftentimes people from these small towns will go to their largest, big city and have their Pride there and they can be open and they can be themselves and feel safe and feel free. And then when they leave Pride that weekend, you know, they go back home, they strip off their glitter and their stickers and, you know, they can slip back into their normal lives.
But when you, you know, when you are walking in your small town, um, Pride parade, or you go to your small town Pride [00:09:00] event, uh, you know, you’re there with the four or five hundred other people in your town. And so you’re likely to get recognized. It’s, it’s both a blessing and a curse, right? Um, in that, uh, you’re, you’re wanting to create that visibility for yourself, but you’re also putting yourself, um, you know, at risk in a, in a very real and tangible way. Um, and so like, numbers are very important in these smaller places, too, right.
Um, it’s funny that a place like Annapolis Royal has 500 people, but their turnout is, can be anywhere between two and three hundred people, which is half the town. So it’s, it’s much more, um, I think the stakes can be a lot higher if you’re attending Pride, especially if you’re living in that place, the other 364 days of the year.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: And for people who aren’t queer, how important in those towns is allyship, right? I mean, you mentioned when half the town comes out, like that changes the dynamic.
Chelle Turingan: 100% allyship is, uh, was, is very important. I mean, we [00:10:00] have some very strong allies in the film as you, um, as you saw Sarah Kelly, for example, um, w- who is the supervising teacher of the, of the GSA up in Norman Wells. And I think, you know, some of the, these allies, they, they may not have, you know, a personal connection to, um, to the LGBTQ2S+ community, but they feel that this is just the right and important thing to do. And they’re also putting themselves at risk because they’re using their, their allyship and whatever, um, privilege that they have with that, to help this cause along. So allies are extremely important element to, to living in these spaces for sure.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: On the other side of that, how do queer people in these places, I don’t want to say deal with, but how, how do they handle being able to see who’s not there. And, and even [00:11:00] more importantly than who’s not there, you know, who is at city council speaking against it. Um, and, and who is, you know, trying to prevent this thing from happening?
Chelle Turingan: Yes. Um, 100%. I think that certainly, um, and an issue that the folks in Tabor deal with, uh, every day, I think, uh, those folks are incredible. They’ve been fortunate enough to create, um, the organization, the Tabor Quality Alliance, um, and I think that’s been a really important resource, particularly for the young people in that town, um, to get involved. Um, and so I think it’s, it’s very lucky that they have this organization is, and this resources available to the queer community. Um, there, so that in their normal lives, when they’re still experiencing discrimination, they know at least they have this, um, this one safe space.
I believe, I think Jace Wilson had mentioned in the documentary as well, that [00:12:00] aside from the weekend that Pride happens, um, most people in the town that they know, like they remain closeted, um, the rest of the year. Um, but knowing that they can have, uh, an organization like that outside of Pride, uh, I think is, is one of the greatest ways that folks in our community can get the help and, uh, resources that they need.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Tell me about some of the younger people in these small towns who are wrestling with the decision to come out or not, and, and how they can often, you know, leverage that sense of community at these events to make that move a little easier.
Chelle Turingan: Totally. Well, I think like, first of all, the students, the GSA in Norman Wells were wonderful, bright, uh, charming, funny, witty, uh, young people and, um, I think it speaks to just kind of the level of acceptance that has changed as well over, um, the generations and the decades. I don’t think I was that articulate or [00:13:00] present or, um-
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Right!
Chelle Turingan: As, uh, I didn’t have that activism spirit, uh, when I was 16. And so it’s it’s so, and for these young kids now, it’s, it’s almost like a part of their, um, vocabulary and, uh, it’s, it’s second nature to them, which is so heartwarming to see. And so, um, not to say that their struggle is any less than mine was 20 or 30 years ago, but they, I think there’s just been a change, uh, culturally and, and in the society in which these younger people feel like they can come up at a, that they can come out at a younger age. And so when you add that with, uh, you know, with a teacher that is creating a space for them to have these conversations in school as well, you know, you’re you, if you give, if you build it, they will come, right, Jordan?
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Right! Yeah!
Chelle Turingan: So I think Sarah came, uh, came to Norman Wells and was able to, to set up that, that group for them. [00:14:00] And you know, when a child, when a child feels safe, you know, their, their potential is limitless.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: I want to ask about something that I don’t know if you encountered or not, but one of the questions that I really had about the aftermath of these events is if they manage to convert anyone, um, who may have otherwise been opposed to it, who may have otherwise not wanted it in town or not attended to, you know, coming around to viewing, like there is a whole community of queer people here and it’s fine. Like, especially in some of the, the deeply religious towns.
Chelle Turingan: Totally. I mean, I’m, uh, I can’t speak to any conversions happened as a result of any of these events. I would imagine and suspect that some of the hearts they want to change wouldn’t be in attendance anyways, right. But, um, you know, perhaps, you know, if they’re, if they were, uh, running their errands that weekend and they happened to pass by the park and they, you know, they see the, the [00:15:00] rainbow flags and they see the trans flags and they see that something’s happening? Like that, that is a small step towards visibility, which I think is important, particularly in towns like Tabor.
Um, but more interestingly, I think that these small events actually help other queer people, um, connect with each other, particularly in Annapolis Royal. It was funny because, uh, you know, we were speaking to a bunch of different people, people in all of the places. And we spoke to Zeynep and we spoke to, um, uh, an older couple, uh, Judy and Donna, who spoke a little bit about their experience. And, uh, these two people did not know each other. And, um, when Judy and Donna went to go partake in the Pride event at Annapolis, they met Zeynep and I would hope that they took that opportunity to see, um, where I think, I think Donna was maybe interested in like joining their Pride committee and, um, you know, that might not have been, um, a [00:16:00] possibility if they didn’t have this big yearly event to connect with each other. Um, so I think that is, for me, it’s less about converting the masses and it, it’s more about connecting people with one another.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: For sure. I want to ask you lastly, just a, a question about your experience, you know, as you mentioned, um, you’ve been in Toronto for some time. You’ve been to lots of Pride celebrations here, um, so have I, what can huge cities, uh, that do these big events like Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver take from the documentary you made and what’s going on in these small towns?
Chelle Turingan: That’s a great question. I think to remember, um, where we started, our humble beginnings is what I hope some of the organizers in bigger Prides can take away from this. I love Big Pride. You know, I love going to Toronto Pride as much as I love going to Pride in Smiths Falls, um, for very different reasons, they [00:17:00] serve different purposes. They serve the same purpose in that, you know, Pride is to celebrate who we are, right. And I think something that maybe the bigger Prides can take away is even though the scale is much larger, um, you know, I still think there’s room in programming to create, um, smaller events, um, throughout that weekend or that week, or that month that have more of that grassroots feeling to their community, uh, outreach and, and, uh, ways for people to connect on a more intimate level at Pride. So I’m hoping that that is something that people will take away from the film.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Chelle, thank you so much for talking to us today and everybody should get a look at this film. Where can they go?
Chelle Turingan: Um, absolutely. So, um, Small Town Pride is, uh, premiering at the Inside Out Film Festival, which is running from May 27th to June 6th, and if you go to the Inside Out, uh, website, um, you can [00:18:00] purchase tickets to watch Small Town Pride over there.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: For free!
Chelle Turingan: For free in Ontario, yes.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: There we go. Just getting the plugin. Thanks again for joining us.
Chelle Turingan: Oh, thank you so much, Jordan. It was a pleasure.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Chelle Turingan is a video journalist with Xtra, the co-director, producer, and editor of Small Town Pride. You can find free tickets to Small Town Pride by going to insideout.ca/toronto-films.
That was The Big Story, for more from us head to thebigstorypodcast.ca, you can also talk to us on Twitter at @TheBigStoryFPN. You can, of course, email us anytime, thebigstorypodcast, all one word, all lowercase, @rci.rogers.com [click here!], and we’re in whatever podcast player you prefer, whether it’s a smart speaker, whether it’s Amazon Music, whether it’s Spotify or anything else, you will find The Big Story.
Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath-Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow. [00:19:00]
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