How a ‘strong queer community’ is making this rural town into a vibrant ‘destination experience’

Jordana Myles is the drag-queen-in-residence for Bubba & Bugs Drag Brunches.

At least one rural town in Eastern Ontario is showing its true colours – and it’s a full rainbow.

Scott Godwin and Luc Vincent, owners of Bubba & Bugs Coffee Bar in downtown Kemptville, grew up in rural communities before moving to Toronto, where they met. When they decided to relocate to Kemptville and open a coffee shop in early 2020, Godwin says they “made a deal with each other.”

“We wouldn’t put one foot back in the closet just because we were in a rural area,” says Godwin, who’s originally from Kemptville. “Visibility-wise, that’s something that’s remained important to us. The best you can do is lead by example, so we try to be as open as we can to prove we aren’t just talking the talk.”

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Godwin (Bubba) and Vincent (Bugs) say they decided to not only live their own most authentic lives, but to encourage others to do the same, creating a cultural hub in their cafe and hosting events based around LGBTQ2S+ Pride.

They say the most popular event they’ve introduced is the drag brunch, which fills Bubba & Bugs with baked goods, lattes, breakfast food, customers, and, of course, drag queens.

Aside from creating safe spaces for queer folks, Godwin says the events help to “establish territory” that has zero tolerance for hatred, prejudice or judgment.

Scott Godwin (left) and Luc VIncent (centre) have opened their doors and hearts to a whole new community in Kemptville with drag brunches, featuring Jordana Myles (right).

“Don’t come just because of the drag brunch — understand the place you’re coming to and the space you’re sharing in,” he explains. “We want to nurture that community here together.”

The drag brunches have sold out, with the most recent having a waitlist.

“People bring kids who are starting to self-identify and the parents want to demonstrate their support,” Godwin says. “It’s to bring people together.”

Another event that Godwin and Vincent introduced this past year was “very near and dear to our hearts,” they say – a queer prom. Available to anyone over the age of 16 who identifies on the “queer spectrum,” the prom allows attendees to feel safe being themselves while celebrating.

“We know some schools have come a long way, but from our time growing up, going to prom with a boyfriend was not going to happen,” says Godwin. “It wasn’t in the cards.”

When Vincent and Godwin saw a desire for a queer prom from high school students in Kemptville, they decided to host their own. 

“We wanted to try to give that experience to people who wanted to ask the date of their choosing and attend and have that experience together,” Godwin says. “We had people in their 40s, 50s, 60s come to reclaim that event.”

As some of the few local business owners who are publicly “out,” Godwin and Vincent say they’ve found their niche. They say they are committed to “solidifying” their cafe as a safe space and “fighting that good fight.”

Jordana Myles puts on a show for the attendees of the Bubba & Bugs drag brunch.

In combination with the Kemptville Pride Parade and various non-profits dedicated to Pride, the Bubba & Bugs events are having community-wide benefits. North Grenville Mayor Nancy Peckford says the events are “contributing to the vibrancy” of the community and encouraging residents to stay in town on weekends and holidays.

“It’s enabling our own residents and residents from neighbouring communities to have more options, certainly in our downtown, so it’s fabulous that they’re creating this destination experience,” Peckford tells EOBJ. 

While a “strong queer community” has always existed in Kemptville, Peckford says, “it wasn’t as visible.” 

The Bubba & Bugs events have “had a contagious effect in a positive way,” says Peckford, especially since Kemptville relies on residential growth and sees huge impacts from tourism. With Pride events, Peckford says visitors are coming from Brockville, Ottawa and neighbouring communities.

“Any time we have businesses in the community that are able to go beyond their regular day-to-day operations and bring people and introduce them to the community, we find it very valuable,” she says. “People are having an opportunity to get to know North Grenville and our leaders in a new way, connect with others, build relationships, and people are coming to North Grenville and having experiences that are very positive, fun and festive.

“We remain attractive because people see the vibrancy, we’re evolving and growing, and it has energy. It’s awesome.”

It hasn’t always been easy, with “significant prejudice and discrimination in the past,” but the community was ready to embrace more diversity and inclusivity, she says. 

Business owners and advocates have blazed a trail, Peckford says. Local restaurants and venues have provided a setting for activities held by North Grenville Pride or the North Grenville Rainbow Youth Alliance.

Perhaps most importantly, Pride events have shown people that they “can take up space,” Peckford says.

“There was often diversity within the community, but people thought they couldn’t express it or had to leave,” she says. “We’re happy as a municipality to be good partners and lead by example where we can. I really salute and recognize the leadership that’s come from the community and it’s been a real pleasure to see them thrive — both economically and socially.

“There’s a lot of promise in rural communities if there’s that willingness from leaders to find their way.” 

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