LGBTQ Pride is alive and well and growing in Smithers.
The Interior News estimates approximately 450 people participated in the Second Annual Pride Day celebrations in downtown Smithers May 25, double last year’s inaugural event.
“The turnout is really heartwarming,” said Frederick Lawal, a member of the Pride committee.
Perry Rath, another of the organizers of the event, said it is not only an indication of growing comfort of people expressing their gender and sexual identities, but a testament to an increasing overall inclusiveness in the town.
“There’s always things to improve upon, but momentum is certainly strong and getting stronger with community acceptance, especially with Anna Ziegler helping to get the rainbow crosswalk going and making things more visible,” he said.
Ziegler downplayed her role saying all she did was write a letter, but she said she was thrilled to see how Pride has blossomed.
“I think it’s amazing,” she said. “The reason I thought Smithers needed a crosswalk is to show everybody that no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, who you choose to be with, that you’re safe in Smithers and you’re welcomed in Smithers and you’re respected for who you are and a celebration like this with so many people turning out, shows exactly that Smithers is an open and welcoming community.”
Rath, the teacher-sponsor of the Smithers Secondary Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA), said it shouldn’t be underestimated how important seemingly small things, such as the crosswalk, can be.
“When something becomes visible like that, then it sends a message to the community … and to our youth that they are welcome and they don’t have to leave the community to become who they are,” he said.
“Even in my time [at Smithers Secondary] I’ve seen many youth that have actually had to leave the community to truly present themselves as who they are and they never come back because they never felt comfortable with it, so I think visible signs like [the crosswalk] and Pride Day like this are important components to helping to demonstrate [acceptance].”
Rath explained how the town Pride Day grew out of the school Pride.
“Through the conversation with our GSA we realized a lot of the dates that we recognize in the school year related to sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI) are often like anti-homophobia day or anti-bullying day, memorials for the Orlando shooting, transgender day of remembrance, things that have a connotation of being against the perpetrators, and it was like, wait a minute, the purpose of Pride is to celebrate things and we need to have a positive thing like that, so we started the school Pride,” he said.
“Then very quickly the community jumped on board and said, ‘we need a town Pride,’ and so we had numerous people jump on for that one last year and then even in the last year between then and now, the traction has gotten so much larger.”
In the lead up to the high school’s third annual event May 24, the school took the opportunity to take the pulse of inclusiveness with a survey.
“It was called the ‘School Climate Survey,’ on the vibe of diversity acceptance in our school,” Rath said, “whether kids have heard derogatory terms recently in the hallways or what they feel about how teachers address diversity issues, what sort of resources we have at the school and just how safe people feel.”
The results are not in yet, but Rath said overall the climate at the school is good.
“I’ve been teaching there 14 years now and in my time time of helping to start the GSA and running that, the climate in the school has gotten way better… but, of course, there’s always ways it can fluctuate and always ways [it can] be improved, and we always want to hear from the students first,” he said.
One thing Rath thinks can be improved has been in the works for some time.
“The one thing we’ve been working towards for the last few years now, and I know it’s on the radar to be done, is a gender neutral washroom,” he said.
“We have one single-stall, gender-neutral washroom that’s meant to be a temporary facility until we get many more built in. There’s a larger renovation in the works, which is obviously beyond my control, but a component of that is to make a whole row of private, single-stall, single-use, gender-neutral washrooms and change room areas for students who require that, so that seems like the next big thing to happen at our school.”