Teen organizer of Ontario town’s first Pride parade gets surprise call from PM


TORONTO — A teenager behind an Ontario town’s first Pride parade was still getting over his surprise on Thursday at having found himself taking a congratulatory phone call from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In an interview from Owen Sound, Ryan Brown, 16, said Trudeau has been good at recognizing the LGBTQ community and their events, as well as initiatives by young people, but the call on Wednesday was still unexpected.

“It’s not a shock that he would do that kind of thing,” Brown told The Canadian Press. “But it’s definitely still shocking that it was me that ends up getting a call — after dealing with the (U.S. President) Donald Trump trade issue the day before and then, ‘this is a Ryan Brown in Owen Sound call’.”

The high school student in the town of about 22,000 said he first approached the local Pride group about throwing a parade, but they declined formal involvement. So he took the idea to city hall, which approved the event held last Sunday.

About 25 groups, most walking but a few on floats and in vehicles, participated as people lined sidewalks to watch. Despite initial fears, no protesters showed up and everything went off without a hitch, Brown said.

“It was a really successful parade. The community really came together,” Brown said. “A lot of people think we’re a small conservative town but it’s not necessarily the case. That was really proven Sunday.”

The event garnered local news coverage, which apparently was enough to catch the eye of Trudeau’s communications people, who reached out to Brown to ask if he would take a call from the prime minister.

“I said, ‘Absolutely!'” Brown recalled.

Trudeau called late Wednesday afternoon, Brown said. The main thrust was to congratulate the teen on the work he had put in to make the event happen.

“We talked about wanting to inspire more young people to know that they can make a change and you don’t need to wait to be an adult to do that,” Brown said. “We just talked about the general success of the parade and how great it was that the community came together so well.”

After the chat, Brown took to social media to express his appreciation.

“Just got off the phone with Prime Minister @JustinTrudeau,” Brown said in his tweet. “Thank you so much for calling to talk about Owen Sound’s first pride parade! It was an honour to discuss the importance of LGBTQ+ initiatives and the way our community came together.”

In response, Trudeau tweeted: “It was great to chat with you, Ryan. Congratulations again and keep up the amazing work you’re doing.”

Brown said he had received no pushback over the parade or the role he played. The town, he said, has progressed over the past 10 to 15 years — in line with many other places — and the event and Trudeau’s call simply affirmed that progress.

“It’s so strange to actually talk to him (but) it was really courteous of him to take the time out of an obviously very busy schedule,” Brown said. “All of Owen Sound is being recognized for being so progressive.”

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press