Opinion Editorial

A reason to be proud

 The Packet & Times

This week, the Pride flag was proudly raised at the Orillia Opera House to help mark Fierté Simcoe Pride (FSP) Festival celebrations across the county. In municipalities throughout Simcoe County, events have been organized to ensure there are “safe and inclusive communities … that support and unite the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) community.” An example was the Trans Pride March that occurred at the Orillia waterfront Thursday evening.

One of the goals of FSP is to educate the public about LGBT issues and to provide social support services, such as support groups and healthy-living activities, for LGBT persons, their families and their communities.

FSP was formed in 2012. It began as a small, grassroots volunteer group whose goal was to “unite people in Pride across Simcoe County.” Its hope was to build on a long local tradition of LGBT activism while working with other organizations, groups and partners to strengthen the community.

The long and short of it is it’s much more than a symbolic raising of a colourful flag. And those behind FSP, those who have courageously marched to the forefront — publicly and vocally — to spread a message of tolerance and understanding and acceptance deserve credit for their hard work.

It’s not been an easy journey for most. Just ask Brandon Amyot, who grew up on a farm in rural Springwater Township. “I felt like I had to fit in with a certain idea of what it meant to be a man or a woman. I didn’t fit either of those,” Amyot said. And, at that time, it wasn’t something you spoke about — or admitted to others.

“Growing up, I didn’t really have an understanding of what the outside world was like, especially in terms of sexuality and gender,” said Amyot, president of FSP. “I didn’t have language for that; there were no conversations around it — not in school, not at home.”

Because of that, he struggled with depression and contemplated suicide — something many in the LGBT community have experienced. “They feel isolated. They feel lonely, and they’re confused. So, it’s really important that we have these events in every little community throughout our county so people have a resource to come and connect with people just like that.”

He is absolutely correct. And the work of FSP is already creating ripples of change in the community. For example, Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (OSMH) formed an LGBT committee in 2014 to help address health-care needs of that community. “Some of the needs are an understanding of definitions and how people identify, and identifying people with pronouns they accept as their own,” said Philip Hough, co-chair of the committee, adding a family isn’t necessarily a mom, a dad and a child.

So, OSMH has worked to increase awareness and tolerance among staff so they can better address the needs of the LGBT community and has transitioned to all-gender washrooms. The hospital is also working with the Local Health Integration Network to complete a study that will focus on the health needs of transgender residents in the region. It’s important work.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Education is the basic tool for the development of consciousness and the reconstitution of society.” Those words still resonate today, and the work of FSP embodies that philosophy — a philosophy it is embracing and using to change the world one community at a time.

— The Packet & Times

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