While acceptance of LGBTQ people may appear common and widespread, the Nanaimo Pride Society says there is still plenty of work to be done for inclusivity.
June, recognized nationally as Pride Month, was also declared as such locally by Mayor Leonard Krog on Thursday, June 1, during a flag-raising ceremony, to recognize the important contributions “two-spirited, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer citizens” have made within the city of Nanaimo.
Pride society vice-president Natalie Stewart said it’s easy to just be happy with surface appearances and even easier still to forget that inequality remains.
“There’s still kids that can’t have [queer-straight alliances] in our schools. There’s still people that are … called slurs at their jobs. There’s still people that are being followed home from work,” she said. “We’re still not able to just be ourselves out of fear of constant harassment and hate.”
Both she and Pride society president Faran Berg said there has even been push back within the LGBTQ community regarding the society’s theme of ‘Pride is Protest’ for June.
“We’ve been told that were being ‘too loud,’ and that we’re embarrassing the rest of the community … We’ve been told that there’s nothing left to fight for,” Stewart said, adding that the theme was chosen as reminder that “lots of work still needs to be done” regarding decolonizing and combatting anti-trans rhetoric in both LGBTQ communities and beyond.
Since the elected Pride society board is mostly made up of either trans or non-binary people, Stewart said she feels some LGBTQ community members have taken exception to that, which may be why they’ve faced more “overt opposition” recently.
For the community at large, the vice-president said it’s important that businesses and organizations visibly promote “aggressive inclusion” – which goes beyond “a willingness to be nice” and actively show they are a safe and welcoming space for people of all genders, including the promotion of pride flags on the exterior of a business, hanging visible signs that state such on the property, or even posting on social media.
Berg said one of the major focuses the board has undertaken, beyond decolonizing and inclusivity, includes a re-vamped safe-space policy both within the society and for those working with them.
“We’ve hard-wired that,” they said. “I will not tolerate any transgender jokes. They’re not funny … We are going to be inclusive and accepting of everyone – and if you can’t, then just don’t come.”
Berg also said they intend to see the society focus on raising awareness of discriminatory practices in the community, such as social services that are prejudiced, and furthering LGBTQ education and acceptance in schools.
“And to educate around two-spirited people … First Nations are rarely brought up and are always put last. That’s why I always say 2SLGBT-plus, because we were here first and we created that prior to colonialism,” they said.
For Pride Month, festivities directly affiliated with the society this year include the return of the parade in downtown Nanaimo on Sunday, June 11, starting at 11 a.m. on Victoria Crescent and continuing up Commercial Street and Front Street to Maffeo Sutton Park. The pride festival officially starts at the park at noon. The all-ages festival will include drag performers Andi Rogynous and Vikki Smudge emceeing the entertainment, as well as other activities and food trucks.
The night before, on Saturday, June 10, the society will also host an NPS Pride Party and Extravaganza event, a 19-plus event, at the Beban Park social centre starting at 7 p.m.
The parade and festival will be free to attend, while the extravaganza requires a purchased ticket.
More information on the Nanaimo Pride Society, its events and other events happening for Pride Month can be found online at www.nanaimopride.ca.