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Kahnawake shows up for Pride

Eve Cable The Eastern Door

It had been drizzling for almost all of last Saturday, the day of Kahanwake’s first-ever Pride parade. As the event’s start time grew nearer, nobody knew if the weather would dampen the day, or if there’d be a big turnout, or if there’d be anyone in the streets to support it.

But Kahnawake showed up for its queer community. As the inaugural Pride parade made its way through the streets, almost every house in town was either decorated in support or was home to a group of Kahnawa’kehró:non waving the parade on.

The sight made Lanny Lazare, who co-owns local store Thrifting the Night Away with his wife Lacey, emotional. 

“I’m just so, so glad that all of these people showed up to support, to show their love,” said Lanny. He and his wife both identify as bisexual and both participated in the parade planning committee. “Just look at how many people are here. It’s amazing. It’s amazing to me to know that there are this many people in our community who will show up like this.”

For Lanny, the journey to accepting himself hasn’t always been easy. As a child growing up in Kahnawake, opinions were different, and the idea of a Pride parade in the local streets would have been a far-off fantasy. 

“We didn’t have anything like this. It was very, very, very closed-minded. I spent my whole life hiding and being afraid to tell people who I am, and to be myself,” he said. “If I had something like this, it would have been different. I would have had peers. It’s a real hard thing to think about.”

Lanny and Lacey didn’t expect their thrift store to become a sanctuary for queer youth in Kahnawake, but somehow, it quickly did. As a safe space for queer people in Kahnawake, the store has seen many queer youth come through its doors to share their stories. Lanny commended those youth for standing proud in the streets that day.

“I can honestly say that young people, the young community that came to our store and gave us all that love, that was the inspiration for me wanting to be who I am, and to come out and be who I am,” he said. “I hope every year that we have a Pride parade we have a turnout like this.”

For young people such as Adrianna Jones, attending the parade is an important way to show up for her community.

“I saw the parade all over social media, I follow Thrifting the Night Away and I saw everybody prepping their floats, and I thought it was really cool, especially since it was the first one too,” Jones said. “I was really excited to just come down and see what it was all about.”

For Jones, it’s especially important that Kahnawa’kehró:non see themselves represented within their community. 

“For people in town to have that representation of their community inside the community and for people to see that they’re not alone, I think it’s just really amazing,” she said. “And look at how many people showed up! I really like to see it.”

The parade planning process hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Various community groups have faced hateful social media comments. Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS) saw controversy on their Pride-related press release, and Lacey and Lanny were forced to delete posts on Thrifting the Night’s Facebook page that saw too many homophobic and transphobic comments.

For Lanny, this kind of hatred is disappointing, but most of all, he’s saddened by it. 

“We’re all a part of the same community,” he said. “We need people that are afraid or closed-minded to come and see that. They’re missing out on a wonderful celebration if they’re not here.”

The hate drew support from other communities, with Six Nations Pride Outreach releasing a press release in support of Kahnawake’s parade.

“Let us take a moment to remind everyone that homophobia/transphobia is an inherent contradiction to our fundamental principles of peace, love, strength and unity as Haudenosaunee,” their statement reads. “Hate, ignorance, and violence is an outdated and tired look that never worked for the original colonizers who brought that ideology to Turtle Island. It’s time to unlearn that mentality and behaviour and re-learn to grow as complex beings.”

Though participants were apprehensive before the parade’s start that there wouldn’t be a high turnout, the community came out in numbers that far exceeded expectations. But Peggy Mayo-Standup wasn’t surprised, convinced that acceptance is at the core of the community.

“We as Indigenous people are always at the back end of acceptance, and we still face (discrimination) to this day. We of all people should be the most open about this and the most accepting,” Mayo-Standup said. “It doesn’t matter what you believe in, nobody has a right to diminish that. We all know that love is love.”

Mayo-Standup emphasized the importance of educating community members who might be apprehensive about the parade but said that a lack of understanding was no excuse for spreading hate. To her, the parade’s turnout was evidence of Kahnawake’s support of queer community members. 

“Sometimes it can be a question of maybe not being educated enough on the issues, and everybody’s human,” she said. “But for the naysayers, I think the community spoke for itself tonight. I got my answer. We don’t need to say anything more. Just look around you. I’m blown away by it.”

The night ended with a sober dance party on Tekakwitha Island beach, where community vendors like Rezican Tacos and James Day’s Haunted Dogs served up free snacks for parade-goers. Folks who had been supporting from their homes came down to the island to support and party the night away.

“To me, this is an acceptance of who we are,” said Mayo-Standup, gesturing to the crowds young and old dancing around her. “Love is love, and you can love anyone you want.”

This article was originally published in print on Friday, June 30, in issue 32.26 of The Eastern Door.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.