Bovill Square was filled with rainbows as the Smithers Pride Society hosted its 6th annual pride celebrations, “United In Pride” on Saturday.
There was a stage show featuring local musicians, Drag Story Time and local vendor booths lined the block.
There was also an evening celebration at the Old Church for those 19+ later in the night.
While the celebrations themselves were not marred, the event did not go off without controversy.
Earlier in the week, a petition was brought forward to Smithers town council, asking to not allow the Drag Story Time for kids in Bovill Square.
Ken Penner and Warren Vandenberg presented the petition with more than 800 signatures. The two spoke as a delegation to council on May 23 and said children should not be exposed to this type of sexualized behaviour.
“Kids are not ready for what it is that some of the drag queens are bringing to their shows,” said Vandenberg.
Mayor Gladys Atrill told them that any member of the commmunity can use Bovill Square, as long as it’s legal.
“It’s our job to represent, as best we can, in a legal way, the entire community,” she said. “And so when people want to use public spaces, they are able to. People can use our public spaces, they have that right to do so whether their worldview is yours, or a different view.”
Councillor Sam Raven echoed Atrill’s sentiments.
“I do understand that everyone has different worldviews,” she said. “What I find, perhaps a bit unsettling is some of the rhetoric and the tone, because that can really push things and cause division. So if we come from a place of love and understanding that we can find acceptance, or at least find a way to coexist and learn from each other. Because I do think that everyone in this community has something to give. And we all have something to learn. So I fully support the ability for all groups to use Bovill Square.”
There were many people from the LGBTQIA2S+ community in attendance and plenty spoke during the public comment period. A few broke down in tears. More than a hundred people showed up to the council meeting, however, some members of the public were there to speak on the topic of the parks bylaw.
Ryan Armstrong pointed out that while parents who disapprove have the right to keep their children away from such performances, other parents have just as much right to decide what they want their children to experience.
River Wild, one of the performers involved in the drag show, noted the reaction to the story time has been traumatic for some community members.
“Even if the petition was well-meaning, it has unfortunately made myself and my other community members feel even less safe. And so it’s unfortunate that in their attempts to try to create a safer environment, they have actually made it less safe for a lot of their neighbours, friends and family.”
Smithers Pride Society vice president Perry Rath explained that drag performers tailor their performances to the audience.
“Queer people and performers care about children, they’re not out there grooming or trying to convert people. That’s just sensationalist misinformation. They want children to thrive, to be themselves, learn to be compassionate, and try to understand the differences that others carry,” he said. “We wish to emphasize that pride events are meant to celebrate the queer community where they feel comfortable to be themselves amongst allies.”