A new round of federal funding could boost the profile of Saskatchewan's LGBT-friendly cities.
Saskatoon and Moose Jaw already have successful Pride festivals and smaller initiatives that could support a tourism industry of their own.
Moose Jaw Pride is getting $95,000 to develop its community and marketing plan to help the city gain national and international attention as a two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (2SLGBT) travel destination.
The city already has a $90-million tourism economy with one of the highest number of tourist attractions per capita in Canada.
The funding will help to educate and inform existing tourism attractions to better serve 2SLGBT people and to market directly to the demographic.
The Saskatoon Diversity Network, which hosts the popular Saskatoon Pride every year, will receive $100,000 to hire a new employee to develop 2SLGBT tourism products and services.
According to the network's project manager, Saskatoon Pride will look to capitalize on its already existing programs that help the festival stand out, like a two-spirit powwow and events at the Western Development Museum.
'Exponential growth' in events, programs
The funding for new programs in Moose Jaw and Saskatoon is from the Canadian Experiences Fund. It provides approximately $11 million to 65 projects in Western Canada.
The projects include projects in categories such as Indigenous tourism, inclusiveness, rural and remote communities and culinary tourism.
Even before the funding was announced, Moose Jaw Pride has proven itself as a 2SLGBT-friendly success, at least in Saskatchewan.
"Pride has grown exponentially in this community as well as through our work in other smaller communities throughout the region," said Taylor Carlson, the organization's executive director.
When they say "pride," they mean the community beyond the parade.
Carlson says the organization is committed to educating professionals in various sectors like health, community services and education. Moose Jaw Pride helps the city and nearby rural communities to face 2SLGBT issues in an appropriate and genuine way.
The $95,000 won't go toward a new employee or salary. It will boost Moose Jaw Pride's growing network of 2SLGBT-friendly businesses and programs. Some of the funding will help train staff and volunteers who in turn will educate community leaders.
Beyond the gay male traveler
Writer Daniel Dalman knows Saskatoon's 2SLGBT attractions intimately. He and his boyfriend have toured the city to find the best spots.
"We're uniquely [poised] to be a destination for that worldly gay traveler," he said.
"They want to go somewhere first. That's their M.O. — to discover and see places first."
The "worldly gay traveler" has options when it comes to friendly tourism destinations like Toronto, Vancouver or Calgary. Gay men are often welcomed into Pride party venues where drinking, partying and networking are encouraged.
But more diverse identities like the transgender and non-binary communities have less access to events and attractions tailored toward their experience. Saskatoon Pride seeks to change that.
The festival is less party, more meaningful experience, according to project lead Mike McCoy.
"And that's why the emphasis in this particular project is on creating greater links and more experiences that involve Indigenous and two-spirit communities and the trans community," he said.
He hopes the unique experience of 2SLGBT on the Prairies will attract national and international tourists.
That includes adding context to events.
"Parties have their place, celebrations have their place, but we want to create an experience where people can come and really end up having a new understanding."
Through the $100,000 funding, the Diversity Network will create a new employee position. Their role will be to create workshops and experiences that are more meaningful than simply watching a parade.