More than 200 people marched to make a difference in Borderland last weekend.

Members and supporters of Borderland Pride, the LGBTQ2 organization for the Rainy River District in northwestern Ontario and Koochiching Country, physically crossed the bridge from the United States to Canada Saturday, but the effort stood for much more.

“This event is about building bridges between different types of communities and different groups of people within our communities,” said Douglas Judson, co-chair of Borderland Pride.

LGBTQ2A stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and two-spirit community and their straight allies.

Saturday’s Passport to Pride March, the signature event of PRIDE WEEK+, celebrated June 2-9, was the second time the effort was held in Borderland. As people arrived at Smokey Bear Park that morning, Judson said he was unsure of what to expect.

“We don’t know if there’s a novelty factor with the first time, or whether we’re building and will have more people than ever,” he said. “I would like to see this event be bigger than last year.”

In the end, the march appeared to attract more participation this year, with some returning faces and some new.

Angela Liedke, former Falls resident, attended the march with family and friends.

“I thought it was fantastic,” she said of the march. “Seeing people come together to celebrate and support the LGBTQ2 community was very special.”

Liedke, who now lives in the Twin Cities, said she never thought she’d see a Pride march hosted in her hometown.

“The organizers should be proud of the work they did to put on an event that celebrates love, acceptance, kindness and understanding,” she said. “I attended the event with a group of people from across the U.S., who were in town for a birthday celebration at the lake. Everyone had the best time. One of our group members said that it was the best Pride festival she has ever attended. There was talk of making the trip up for next year’s event.”

Judson believes there is a bright future for Borderland Pride and annual events surrounding the week-long celebrations.

“I see the future of Pride in small northern communities like this on both sides of the border,” Judson said. “We need to assert ourselves as welcoming places.”

Controversial vote

Prior to Saturday’s event, the week attracted controversy within local government.

A proclamation declaring PRIDE WEEK+ June 2-9, did not appear on the International Falls City Council agenda until a request to adopt a resolution was brought forth by city Councilor Harley Droba during the May 20 meeting. The motion to adopt a resolution with wording similar to that approved as a proclamation for 2018 passed on a 4-1 vote, with Mayor Bob Anderson voting no.

During that meeting, Anderson said he needed to better understand whether people are not feeling welcome or included in the community.

“If someone is discriminated against or harassed, I will be the first to move in and defend them,” he said. “I don’t want to see that in this community.”

But Anderson said there are a number of national issues and debates about which the city has not felt the need for proclamations or resolutions. He said some proclamations are intended to educate the public, but he didn’t feel that was the case with Pride Week.

The action motivated Caitlin Hartlen, “Morning Show” host for 93.1 The Border, to write a letter to the International Falls mayor urging him to speak with her about his feelings toward the queer community.

“I would love to clarify much of the misinformation with which you are currently operating,” she wrote. “I think one of the most significant issues that faces LGBTQ2 people as a whole, within the current confines of society, is the unwillingness of the other side to get to know us. People fear that which they do not know. So come, talk to us, see that we’re just like you. Living, breathing, hardworking human beings who only want the same fundamental rights afforded our heterosexual, cisgender counterparts.”

Hartlen’s letter was shared multiple times on social media sites, and she told The Journal Saturday she was overwhelmed by the support.

“I didn’t expect the reaction it got at all,” she said. “I know I’m probably not going to change the minds of people who are steadfastly against Pride, but I can at least educate the people around them and know they have somewhere they feel safe.”

She knows firsthand what it’s like to feel unsafe.

Before moving to Fort Frances just more than one year ago, Hartlen said she grew up in a small town and was bullied for a year after coming out in high school.

“It wasn’t a good place to be being a queer person,” she said.

Fearing her personal history would repeat itself, she was nervous to move to Fort Frances, but she said she was happy to report she has only felt welcomed by people on both sides of the border.

“I love it here,” she said.

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