At the beginning of June, the St. Catharines Museum put out a call out to our online followers to send in stories and photographs highlighting the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community here in St. Catharines. This was our way to honour Pride Month: to open a platform for new voices to contribute to our understanding of our City’s history and the role the LGBTQ+ community plays in this history.
Here’s what was shared with us:
I got denied from a college in Ontario for being trans. No lawyers really wanted to help me [and] I was so close to giving up. I was losing hope but then, speaking to the community, I realized someone was out there will help. That’s when I spoke to Pride Niagara and they sent me [the] name of a lawyer. Through that lawyer, I found someone who was willing to help. The community is lifting me up, sending me positive emails. I am proud the LGBTQ community is so strong, I just wish that there were more lawyers in the area that helped people with discrimination cases because it is not uncommon.
The St. Catharines’ chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays) begins with a woman named Monica Davis. Monica’s son came out in 1983 and though she struggled at first, she realized there was a need for support for LGBTQ+ youth and their parents. She became a member of PFLAG Buffalo, offering one-on-one sessions helping parents support their LGBTQ+ children. After keeping in touch with several “graduate mothers”, she started a St. Catharines chapter in 1994. Despite the harassment and obscene phone calls they at first received, Davis continued her activism. In 2004, Davis received the city’s Human Rights Award for her advocacy efforts in the community.
PFLAG Niagara continues to be active in the community. The groups meets on the second Tuesday of every month. They provide support, information, and fellowship to dozens of individuals each year which has spread to many more family and community members. Going forward, PFLAG is partnering with other community organizations, including Niagara Pride, Transgender Niagara, OUTniagara, and Trans-Parent Canada in a number of new initiatives to continue to serve the community in the future.
Niagara, as a community, has a rich tapestry of history; a part of this history is the personal stories of the Queer Community. Niagara and its Queer Community take shape, for Brock Students, through Pride Niagara and Brock Pride. Both organizations, Pride Niagara and Brock Pride, have helped many students coming from across Ontario – and in some cases from all around the world – learn to accept their Queerness. My story is one of those stories from Ontario. From growing up in a small town in the Ottawa Valley to walking the halls at Brock University, my Queerness has always been a part of my identity. However, it was not one that I, nor people back home, accepted. In my first year at Brock University, I learned of the accepting community that Brock and Niagara had to offer. Through Brock University, I created many friends that supported my Queerness. In my second year at Brock University, I learned of Brock Pride. It was through Brock Pride, and later in my years Pride Niagara, that I found friends who embraced and shared my Queer experience. Throughout my undergrad experience, I learned to accept myself for who I am. The Queer Community allowed [me to] explor[e] who I am. The Queer Community helped me grow into a confident young adult, and it is a piece of my history that I will never forget. My experience is only one of the many Queer experiences; each person in Niagara has their own story.
We sincerely thank all of those who responded to our call and shared their stories for this blog post.We hope that this post helps to highlight and celebrate part of the history of LGBTQ+ community in Niagara. Happy Pride Month!
Sara Nixon is a public historian and Public Programmer at the St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canals Centre. Amanda Balyk is currently the student Program Assistant at the Museum and is completing her MA in History at Brock University.