The announcement of the Smithers Pride Society (SPS) becoming officially incorporated as a non-profit society, soon after the second annual Pride Day celebrations, gives me hope that the small mountain town may be ready for some growth.
I had the pleasure of attending this year’s Smither’s Annual Pride Day celebrations and it was easy to see the crowd had doubled in size from the previous year. There was a palpable positive energy in the air. People were celebrating in the streets, some wearing their symbols of pride proudly.
It was seemingly just another fun family event in the picturesque downtown, however, among the music and laughter there was a shift. According to dictionary.com a shift is “to put (something) aside and replace it by another.” Residents of the North came together that day, put aside possible biases and assumptions, and shifted toward a more inclusive environment.
We live in an area that is rural and disconnected from the Lower Mainland where population allows LGBTQ persons to enjoy a sense of community. There have been studies, and more are being conducted, regarding the impact of living in rural areas for LGBTQ persons. One example is exploratory research conducted by Wendy Hulko and Jessica Hovanes in 2018 titled “Sectionality in the Lives of LGBTQ Youth: Identifying as LGBTQ and Finding Community in Small Cities and Rural Towns.”
In the study, Hulko and Hovanes identify that “public networks such as Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) and clubs play a greater role in terms of personal support than informal social networks of family and friends.”
Statistics indicate personal supports are necessary. According to the Government of Canada: “Thoughts of suicide and suicide-related behaviours are more frequent among LGBTQ youth in comparison to their non-LGBTQ peers.” Creating more supports, along with an inclusive environment, is imperative to foster growth and connections.
In order for growth to be sustained we need agents of change, and I believe the SPS has an opportunity to be just that. My call of action for the people of Smithers, and surrounding communities, is to get involved. Reach out and support the SPS.
Perhaps at this point you are wondering why? Why should I get involved or even care about this topic? The fact that some community members in Smithers do not ‘agree with’ supporting the LGBTQ community is not lost on me. To put it simply, however, it is possible to uphold your own beliefs while not condemning or judging others for theirs.
According to the Smithers Visitors Guide, people in Smithers “love where they live and love to share it with you.” It doesn’t say they love to share it only with certain people, who have specific beliefs, and certain identities. Saying that out loud would sound horrible, because it is. What good is it to welcome strangers with open arms if we cannot offer a hand to our neighbours?
Supporting all people equally benefits the broader community. We have to think about the footprint our actions are leaving. The younger generations are watching. It is up to the adults to model civilized and kind behaviour in a time where we are affronted by acts of hate in the news on a daily basis.
Furthermore, we need to consider the broader context. The work that SPS is doing may have a positive impact on the North as a whole. Access to inclusive programming and events may create pathways for people along Hwy 16 to collaborate.
In a world where dominant exclusionary discourses have directed our society, why not embrace our northern roots and create a new path? The creation of the SPS is a starting point toward a new direction, and growth.
Natalie Compagna is resident of New Hazelton and a graduate student in the Masters of Social Work program at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.