The following account from Gary Kinsman, drafted in November 2017, recounts the actions which eventually led to the creation of Fierté Sudbury Pride. As an organization and as a community, we are forever indebted to the difficult and brave work undertaken by those involved in these actions and of all those who preceded them.
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.