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ManPlay.com Looks into Gay Pride Niagara Falls' Celebrations

Picture this, you are 16 years in the Niagara Region in the early 1960's. It is still illegal to be homosexual, in a community that doesn't support homosexuality. In those years, the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender Niagara social scene was typically centred in a few St. Catharines bars, one of which was called Gustos. The venue provided emotional security and the comfort of strength in numbers for a frequently assaulted minority, which was located in St. Catharines. If you were gay, you kept your mouth shut, and played it straight, living in a heteronormative society. This is the life of a queer person 56 years ago, but a lot has changed in the Niagara Region since then. The LGBTQ+ community struggles were very similar to those struggles in the very conservative city of Calgary, Alberta, which you read about here, only on ManPlay. If you'd like to read about more Gay Pride celebrations in Canada, you can here.

Please note that in this article whenever "Niagara Falls" is referenced, it is referring to the Niagara Region, so to clarify, if Gay Pride Niagara Falls is mentioned, it is actually referring to the Gay Pride celebrations for the Niagara Region, based in St. Catharines, Ontario, known in that area as Pride Niagara.

The Gay Pride Niagara Falls celebrations have been running since 2010, and is held in St. Catharines. The celebrations were created to encompass all of the Niagara Region, which includes Fort Erie, Grimsby, Lincoln, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Falls, Pelham, Port Colborne, St. Catharines, Thorold, Wainfleet, Welland and West Lincoln. The Gay Pride Niagara Falls celebrations starts May 28th, and runs until June 4th. On Saturday June 9, 2012, during Gay Pride Niagara Falls' first Pride in the Park festival in Montebello Park, St. Catharines.  A Drag performance took place on the stage at the park, that not only entertained but broke the Guinness World Record for Largest Drag Queen Stage Show. The record was held by Gay Pride Niagara Falls until July 26th, 2014 when it was broken by Axis Nightclub, in Columbus, Ohio. The celebrations are quite lively for an area that currently doesn't have a 'gay scene.' When looking for a gay bar or club, the closest ones open were across the boarder in Buffalo or in Hamilton, both being about a 40 minute drive.

What to Expect at Gay Pride Niagara Falls

When you hear Gay Pride Niagara Falls, and your response is, "what's that?" then you might need to check out the list below. If you have never been to Gay Pride Niagara and are not sure what to expect if you decide to go this year, then below is a detailed itinerary of what to expect for this year. The events you will find more information about are a Kickoff Party, a Flag Raising, Unity Awards, and Pride in the Park. It is very unfortunate, that unlike most Gay Pride celebrations, the Gay Pride Niagara Falls celebrations do not have a parade.

Official Pride Kickoff Party- Gay Pride Niagara Falls

To start off this year's Gay Pride Niagara Falls, on May 28th, there will be the Official Pride Kickoff Party, with special guest DJ Peter Muciy. It will be a night filled with music, dancing, special guest performers, and celebrating. You can join the host Claudia Silva and participate to win prizes in contests like Best Chest, Best Butt, and the 7th Annual Mr. and Miss Pride Niagara contest. Mr. and Miss Pride Niagara serve as the faces of Gay Pride Niagara Falls promoting Gay Pride Niagara Falls events and positive awareness. Anyone can participate, you just have to sign up. There will also be step down performances from the 6th Mr. Pride Niagara Brandon Vrysen and the 6th Miss Pride Niagara Shannon Unrau. The event will be taking place at The Meridian Centre at 1 IceDogs Way in St. Catharines. The tickets are $10 and available now at the The Meridian Centre Ticket Box Office.

The past winners of the Mr. Pride Niagaraand Miss Pride Niagara were:

2014 Mr. Pride Adam Coleman and Miss Pride Diamond Hyman
2013 Mr. Pride Oliver Closeoff and Miss Pride Liberty Stands
2012 Mr. Pride Matthew Wyatt and Miss Pride Katana
2011 Mr. Pride Charles Morris and Miss Pride Nikita
2010 Mr. Pride Anthony Scozzafava and Miss Pride Dusty Balfour

It is a true honour to be dubbed the title of Mr. Pride Niagaraand Miss Pride Niagara, and shows a dedication to the Niagara Region's LGBTQ+ community. It is also a real show of talent, as you have to beat out lots of other contestants.

12th Annual Pride Flag Raising- Gay Pride Niagara Falls

On May 30th, it will be the 12th Annual Pride Flag Raising at the St. Catharines City Hall, which is located 50 Church Street. Mr. and Miss Pride Niagara will be attending along with the Mayor and City Council of St. Catharines, all to show support and unity with Niagara’s LGBT  community. "The flag raising itself at city hall is symbolic, but for some people, it is their celebration. It is rewarding and uplifting for them" (Sawchuk, 2015), a quote from Pride Niagara Chairperson Enzo De Divitiis. Join Gay Pride Niagara Falls participants at St. Catharines City Hall located in the heart of downtown St. Catharines, listen to guest speakers and watch the raising of the rainbow flag.

3rd Annual The Niagara Unity Awards- Gay Pride Niagara Falls

On June 1st is the 3rd Annual The Niagara Unity Awards will be taking place at the Amici's Banquet and Conference Centre. The event showcases the important successes of individuals and groups that have made an impact for the LGBTQ+ community in the Niagara Region. Along with the UNITY Awards itself, the event features an opening winery reception provided by Hernder Estate Wines, a silent auction, a formal three course dinner, a performance by 'female delusionist' Miss Conception.  The tickets for the event are $45 and can be purchased here. For all of that, $45 is a great price for a fantastic night of fun and good food and drink.

The following are the recipients of last year's Unity Awards:

The Ed Eldred Award:: Sarah Burtch – Positive Living Niagara
The Johnathon Crawford Award:: Lorne Gretsinger – Hamilton Gay Mens Chorus
Community Involvement Unity Award:: Rise Against Bullying
Volunteer Excellence Unity Award:: Betsy Tauro – Beamsville District Secondary School
Outstanding Young Person Award:: Zander Meister – ZeeTransendence
Outstanding School or Gay-Straight Alliance Award::Grimsby Secondary School Gay Straight Alliance
Commitment Unity Award:: Meridian Credit Union
LGBT Positive Business Unity Award:: BBBlooms Floral Studio
Community Culture Unity Award:: The City of St. Catharines
Best Performance of the Year Award:: Hamilton Gay Mens Chorus – Spring Concert 2014

Pride in the Park - Gay Pride Niagara Falls

The closing ceremony for the Gay Pride celebrations for 2016 will be on June 4th between 12 PM and 10:30 PM at Montebello Park in St. Catharines. The event is called Pride in the Park, and it will be the 5th time Pride Niagara has run this event. The event will feature live musical acts, family friendly children activities, food and merchandise vendors, an all ages DJ dance floor and performances. This year Pride Niagara will be attempting to regain the Guinness World Record for "Largest Dragqueen/King Stage Show," which they held the title for from 2012 until 2014. The show will be done by Nathan Drake Productions, a company that produces and presents at LGBT and other community events to benefit Not for Profit organizations. Some of the musical guests that are scheduled to be at Pride in the Park this year are:

  • Fox (an Indie-Rock band with a Bluesy-twist)
  • Renders (a new electro/chillwave/R&B band with many influences)
  • Brad Battle (a rising country star)
  • Fitness! (a "post-punk new wave" band)
  • Rae Spoon (a Canadian Indie-rock performer)

Spoon is a Calgary born, Canadian musician and writer, a best description of their eclectic music is a combination of indie rock and folk punk styles. Spoon is a trans man, and prefers the pronouns they/their, and has been an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.

Historic and Statistical Facts About Gay Pride Niagara Falls (Niagara Region)

The Niagara Region has been known have a bit of a rough start when it came to gay rights. Many members of the LBGTQ+ community were afraid to be open to the public, in fear of ridicule, or physical altercations. The original "Pride" celebrations where in the far back end of the Burgoyne Woods in St. Catharine's, it was a small intimate gathering, as not to draw attention to themselves.  St. Catharine's was where the Gay Pride Niagara Falls threw their first big Gay Pride celebrations since 2010, and has been the home for the rest of the annual celebrations ever since.

Tim Rigby was the St. Catharine's Mayor when the Gay Pride flag was raised for the first time in 2004. "It was the largest flag-raising ceremony I have presided over," May Tim Rigby said in an interview with the St. Catharine's Standard.  "We got rid of that intolerance nonsense I think by those kinds of things that were going on," Rigby said. "The notion of pride and gay people certainly were part of that." (Fraser, 2015). Of the three largest municipalities in the Niagara Region, the rainbow flag is also raised at the city halls of Niagara Falls and Welland. There is still a long way to go for the Niagara Region, before they can fully claim to be an LGBTQ+ friendly community, one of which is to get some gay/lesbian clubs and bars into the region, because as it stands, there are none.

On Saturday June 9, 2012, during Gay Pride Niagara Falls' first Pride in the Park festival in Montebello Park, St. Catharines there was a Drag performance that took place on the stage at the park. It was extremely entertaining but also broke the Guinness World Record for Largest Drag Queen Stage Show. The record was held by Niagara Pride until July 26th, 2014 when it was broken by Axis Nightclub, in Columbus, Ohio. Last year, in 2015, over 3,000 people attendedPride in the Park, making it one of the biggest years yet.

According to a Canadian census the population of the entirety of Niagara Region in 2011 was a mere 431,346, with not much of a change in population in 2006, which was 427,421, that is a growth of only 3,925 in five years. The amount of people that are expected to come to this year's Gay Pride Niagara Falls celebrations is just over 3,000 people, and the current population of the Niagara could be estimated at about 435,000 people, which isn't even half a per cent of the population of the region.

The Organizers of Gay Pride Niagara Falls; Pride Niagara

The organization that runs Gay Pride Niagara Falls is called Pride Niagara, same as the event itself, is a celebration of Niagara’s sexual and gender diverse community and its supporters. Based on a platform of acceptance, they provide information and social activities for the Niagara Region. The Gay Pride Niagara Falls organizers are volunteers for a nonprofit organization who sit on the Pride Niagara Board. The board members only contain four members; Chair: Enzo DeDivitiis, Vice Chair: Kevin Manninen, Treasurer: Karen Hoffmann and Secretary: Adam Coleman.

Of course the organization can't do much without sponsors who help make the Gay Pride Niagara Falls celebrations what it is. Some of their biggest supporters and partners in the organization of the celebrations are Hernder Estates Winery, Amici’s Banquet & Conference Centre, Jaywalk.ca, and The Lancer. The Lancer is a family restaurant, owned by the family of Enzo DeDivitiis, the Chair of Pride Niagara. Some other sponsors are Lancaster, Brooks & Welch LLP The Pink Pages Directory.com, Meridian Credit Union, FPM Marketing & Design Inc., Walker Industries, and Leadership Niagara.

Gay Pride Niagara Falls Resources

If you would like to check out any of the sources used in this article, below are all sources used in the order found in this article:

ManPlay Gay Pride- http://www.manplay.com/gay-pride/

Niagara Pride- http://prideniagara.com/

Pride Niagara Kick Off Party- https://www.facebook.com/events/574454682719470/ 

Claudia Silva- https://www.facebook.com/missclaudia.silva

Meridian Centre- http://www.meridiancentre.com/

Flag Raising- https://www.facebook.com/events/1664669713785841/

Sawchuk, St. Catharines Standard- http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2015/05/29/niagara-ready-to-show-its-pride

Amici's Banquet and Conference Centre- http://www.amicisbanquetcentre.ca/

Miss Conception- https://www.facebook.com/Miss-Conception-341416065871638/

3rd Annual The Niagara Unity Awards Tickets- https://www.universe.com/events/3rd-annual-pride-niagara-unity-awards-tickets-T4N5QF

Nathan Drake Productions- https://www.facebook.com/eveningwithnate

St. Catharine's Standard- http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2015/06/04/chronicling-a-revolution-of-niagara-pride

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