Out of the Closet: Sault Pride Expands Services
by Rev Amanda Zuke
In 2014, Sault Ste Marie city council refused to fly a rainbow flag in solidarity with 2SLGBTQIA+ athletes during the Sochi Olympics. In response, Sault Ste Marie’s Queer community occupied the council chambers in silent protest and then got to work. I’m proud to say I was part of that group. My real work with what became Sault Pride, though, began in 2018 when I was asked to coordinate its HIV/AIDS vigil during Pridefest. As time passed, I discovered in Sault Pride a community where I could truly make a difference, not only through my equal marriage work and spiritual counsel but by, as they say, chopping wood and carrying water, participating in the day-to-day work of supporting the community. In 2019, I became co-lead on Pridefest’s flagship event, Loud & Proud, where we premiered an exciting new initiative called Out of the Closet. In 2023, I took over as Sault Pride chair.
Out of the Closet (OOTC) Clothing Swap was envisioned by one of our transgender team members as a way for (primarily but not exclusively) trans community members to update their wardrobes at no cost to reflect the person they are now showing the world. Her experience was that transitioning is expensive business, which is one of those difficulties that might not occur to those who haven’t walked in those shoes. After that first experiment at Loud & Proud 2019, OOTC grew swiftly into its own event, even taking place during some of the less severe COVID restrictions under precautions. When I took on the leadership of Sault Pride this year, one of my goals was to focus some much-needed funding on OOTC as our most directly and materially beneficial event. Thankfully, the Beverly Fenerty-McKibbon Pastoral Development Grant allowed us to do exactly that.
When I approached the organizers, they had a simple and specific wish list. Proper storage boxes would help them streamline event teardown and future setups as well as protect clothing and accessories. Hangers would allow for displaying greater numbers of items. They needed a way to display footwear. Finally, they worried that a recent ban on single-use plastic bags would leave “shoppers” without anything to carry their items home in. The grant (and the partnership of one of our other sponsors, Tenaris Algoma Tubes, which enjoys a close working relationship with a screen printer) allowed us to replace nearly all of OOTC’s failing boxes and garbage bags, purchase dozens of hangers and several shoe racks, and source a large order of “Sault Pridefest” logo reusable shopping bags. The grant also covered the rental of a U-Haul to transport the garments from and back to storage. The volunteers running the event were unable to track attendance closely, but reported that it was busy throughout the five-hour duration of this year’s OOTC. They also found packing up the contents of the hotel conference space (donated by Holiday Inn Express) where it was held was far easier this year.
The only downside in all of this is that the bags were caught up in shipping purgatory and arrived the day after OOTC took place! Nonetheless, our “shoppers” were understanding and creative, and understood that white kitchen garbage bags were the limit of our capacity in the circumstances. There was a tremendous sense of camaraderie in the room, and an understanding that these things happen sometimes. An additional concern is a storage space for between OOTC events, which is an ongoing topic of discussion among Sault Pride leadership.
Sault Pride and the OOTC organizers would like to extend our gratitude to Clergy Support Memorial Church for supporting this initiative. The grant has allowed us not only to improve what we could make available this year, but to improve conditions that will contribute to OOTC’s capacity as part of our tapestry of service in the future.
Sault Pride’s new leadership team is moving the organization in new directions: we have begun the process of legal incorporation as a not-for-profit organization, refined our mission (most concisely expressed in our motto, “Connecting Our Community”), and inaugurated a new annual event to serve the community’s needs separately from Pridefest. The Rainbow Family Holiday Dinner is a sponsored, free-of-charge, all-ages event directed (again, primarily but not exclusively) toward holiday orphans: those members of our community who are estranged from their families or who are perpetually on guard when around family members who do not accept their identities or relationships. Attendees enjoy a buffet-style turkey dinner, a visit from Santa, and an evening of “Family Queeraoke.” We look forward to adding other service initiatives in the months and years ahead.
Media coverage of Out of the Closet 2023 can be found at https://www.sootoday.com/local-news/pridefests-clothing-swap-helps-locals-upgrade-their-wardrobe-7313810