After a few years spent celebrating Pride in isolation, the LGBTQ2S+ community in Kamloops (Tk’emlúps) is eager to come together once again.
Kamloops celebrates Pride Week from Aug. 22 to 28 with a variety of in-person activities. This year, Kamloops Pride has made an effort to incorporate family-friendly and alcohol-free ‘dry’ activity options, capping off the week with the Pride parade and an afterparty in the park.
The Wren spoke with Kamloops community leaders and members about the history of anti-LGBTQ2S+ sentiment in the community and why representation is still needed in the region.
Canada has come a long way since it became the fourth country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2005, but ongoing discrimination and a rise in hate incidents mean LGBTQ2S+ people are still disproportionately targeted. In fact, Canadian police saw 423 hate crimes targeting sexual orientation in 2021, a 64 per cent increase from the year before.
In Kamloops, attacks against the LGBTQ2S+ community in recent years have raised concerns. In 2021, a local youth was the victim of a violent attack that his mother told local media was instigated because he is trans.
Ashton O’Brien, the president of Kamloops Pride, says they’re familiar with homophobic attacks taking place locally. A recent instance they know of occurred at the Orchard Park Shopping Centre in Kelowna, B.C., where two men were the target of a verbal attack while shopping.
An increase in negative stigma calls for an increase in support, says Thompson Rivers University Student Union (TRUSU) Pride Club president Eliana Baboiu. The campus club is a support system for the LGBTQ2S+ community at TRU.
Baboiu says during her time on campus she has seen many international students begin to celebrate their queerness — something that may not have been allowed in their home countries due to discriminatory laws. Baboiu states that part of the club’s role is to acknowledge the needs of these students when they come to study in Kamloops.
Baboiu is positive about the environment created on campus but maintains that the progress we have now can still grow.
“I think it’s important to understand that while we are progressing and have come a long way …there are other people in other countries who haven’t seen the same progress we have,” Baboiu says “It’s important to celebrate Pride, especially for them.”
Growing up in Kamloops, queer and non-binary artist Hannah Senger has seen the ebbs and flows of representation of the local LGBTQ2S+ community and the support it’s seen along the way.
“The comfort that we’ve fought so hard to receive now can’t be taken for granted,” Senger expressed.
“In elementary school, I was one of maybe two or three or four [LGBTQ2S+] people. In high school, I didn’t know any openly queer people except myself and one other person,” Senger recalls, “[Today] it’s definitely better. [The queer community’s] presence has been louder. And also the support from local businesses has been incredible.”
According to research shared by Forbes, companies with policies that support LGBTQ2S+ customers and employees are more profitable. Businesses are noticing this shift, but Senger says some companies have started to perform this allyship to drive profits. This is often referred to as “rainbow capitalism.”
“It’s tough seeing corporations do [allyship] in such a hollow way with just a … graphic pasted on a T-shirt,” Senger says. “That feels empty but I’m also wondering, who is that for?”
“For the older generation, seeing the corporations they’ve supported for their whole life also support queer people might kind of spark a seed for questioning,” Senger says. “As much as capitalism and corporate Pride irks me as a queer person, seeing how it impacts people … has been interesting.”
O’Brien and Kamloops Pride have been working hard over the past years to provide resources not only for local LGBTQ2S+ community members but for local businesses that have been asking how to show their support.
“A lot of the progress that we see is very surface-level, so I think that’s kind of the problem. People are like, ‘yes, we’re allies,’ but I think they don’t quite know what that means yet,” O’Brien says. “We’re still at that point where people are learning about what including queer people means.”
Kamloops Pride released a document for businesses called Normalize It this year after hearing local businesses ask for resources.
The suggestions for local businesses include adding staff pronouns to name tags, providing gender-neutral washrooms and placing a rainbow flag sticker on the storefront or a window. Businesses applying to sponsor Kamloops Pride are asked to express the efforts they’ve made towards fostering allyship or opening up conversation pathways for change.
The organization hopes the guide will “encourage individuals in the Kamloops community to be curious and increase their knowledge and “increase safety for the 2SLGBTQIA+ population.”
Over their time working for Kamloops Pride, O’Brien says the wider Kamloops community has been eager to adapt to better support the LGBTQ2S+ community.
Kamloops Pride has also implemented an anonymous reporting feature for the community to bring attention to actions by sponsors that don’t align with thoughtful allyship.
This feature can be found on the organization’s supporter page where business allies are listed by community region. While they do their best to vet each supporter, Kamloops Pride staff encourage the community to share any extra information.
Kamloops pride kicks off on Monday, Aug. 22 with plenty of events throughout the week, culminating with Sunday’s downtown pride parade at 11 a.m. Senger says they’re excited to participate, as both a community member and a vendor.
“It’s beginning — the seed [of allyship] is planted,” Senger says.