Stroll through downtown Strathroy and you'll notice something different this summer — rainbow-coloured stickers on the windows and walls of businesses.
That's because Strathroy is gearing up for its Pride festival for the first time with local business backing and promotion.
“We are much more visible this year, (with) much more community interaction,” said Frank Emanuele, director and co-chair of Strathroy Pride, a non-profit group promoting inclusivity and diversity in Middlesex County.
“A lot of people are buying merchandise and flags and we're seeing them around town. I think the support has been tremendous.”
The town that makes up most of Strathroy-Caradoc's population of 20,000 is holding its second Pride festival Saturday. The one-day virtual event will feature a performance by Victor Quinlan, a singer-songwriter from London; storytime with London-based drag queens Lita Von Sleaze and Miss Shaneen and speakers from local organizations supporting the LGBTQ2+ community.
A pride flag will be raised at Strathroy town hall at 11 a.m. during the downtown farmers' market that runs Saturday mornings.
Though the event will be virtual again this year, organizers say they expect a larger turnout than last year because of more sponsorships and support from community members and businesses.
“As someone who grew up in Strathroy, the difference from growing up to this year alone is huge,” Lauren Huston, one of the organizers, said. “Before last year, there were like two businesses that had pride flags in the window, and now it’s every single business you see.”
With the help of a volunteer who bought the pride stickers, Strathroy Pride distributed them to businesses throughout the community, including Banh Mi and Bites, a downtown restaurant.
Being part of the initiative is "simple inclusiveness,” the manager, Ian Prangley, said.
“I don’t think anyone should be treated poorly, and I think this town is trying to be more inclusive and (promote) less conservative views than what the town embodied in the past," he said.
Some of the event's sponsors include Ricco Cash and Carry, Click Tower Inn and Bistro and the Rainbow Optimist Club of Southwestern Ontario that has helped promote and establish Pride events and activities in Middlesex, Oxford and Elgin counties.
The hope, said Emanuele, a father of two, is to continue fostering conversations and creating spaces for families.
"I want this community to be a safe place for my kids, for me . . . and teens and youth that are growing up queer. When I grew up, there was that fear of, 'I can't tell anybody how I feel because I might get beat up or I might be ostracized by friends and family.'
"I want that fear to disappear. I want kids and youth to feel safe and included and to be free to find who they are."
What: Strathroy Pride
When: Saturday, July 10 at 11 a.m.
Where: Flag-raising at Strathroy town hall, followed by online performances and discussions
How to watch: The event will stream live at Facebook.com/StrathroyPride
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press