LGBT in B.C.: Squamish counters invisibility with queer social resource organization
As Brian Vincent, an American climber living in Squamish, B.C., was monitoring the progress of same-sex marriage in his homeland, he and his Vancouver wife began to wonder why there wasn't a visible LGBT presence in their current home.
"My wife and I were…wondering why Vancouver has such as a vibrant community for LGBTQ individuals and Whistler has its Pride Week but…there's not much in terms of support here or resources for the community," he said by phone. "Squamish has been a rather conservative and isolated town until fairly recently. It's definitely gone through dramatic demographic change over the last few years and it's become a much more diverse community."
Vincent, who is straight, said he doesn't find the town homophobic but finds a discomfort about LGBT issues and people within the climbing community.
"You don't see a lot of warmth and openness towards LGBTQ individuals," he said.
When he asked the community via a local Facebook page why there wasn't even in a Pride parade in the city, he was met with much interest from others who wanted something started up. However, someone needed to translate that talk into action.
Enter Margo Dent, a local mother in a same-sex relationship.
Dent had previously cofounded a diversity club in 2011 at Howe Sound Secondary. After learning at a conference that two out of three boys were targeted or teased for being gay—regardless of whether they actually were or not—she wanted to do something about it. She sought to start gay-straight alliance, but decided to make it into a diversity club in order to address racial, socio-economic, and cultural issues as well.
"I knew from the diversity club that there was a real want and need for these kids to have visibility in the community and support, and to be able to see themselves in the adults in the community, and that's not necessarily the case [right now]," she said on the line from Squamish, which has a population of about 17,000 and is situated between Vancouver and Whistler.
Vincent said that when he and Dent met with the diversity club, the students weren't keen on holding a Pride parade because it would be only temporary.
"When we talked to the students…they were saying they feel invisible here," Vincent said. "At least the students have the diversity club. If you're past high-school age, there is nothing here."
Dent added that something more than festivities would benefit the community.
"Sometimes a parade allows for a party but that doesn't necessarily allow for education or understanding which builds acceptance," she pointed out.
From that discussion arose a new LGBT orgranization: Safe 'n' Sound Squamish.
In addition to working towards becoming a non-profit organization and acquiring charity status, the group's first objective is to hold an all-day conference, entitled Someone Like Me, on May 9, which they are seeking to raise funds for.
Vincent said social support for the group so far has been "overwhelming". They launched a Facebook page in January and they now have a planning committee with 10 people. A local business also stepped up to pay for Canadian comedian and TV show host Elvira Kurt, who is openly lesbian, to be a keynote speaker at conference.
Dent added that they will have workshops at the conference for four different types of attendees: for family and friends, youth (no parents will be allowed at these sessions), business and community (offering queer competency training), and allies or those interested in learning more about LGBT issues. She added that they're working with local LGBT organizations such as Whistler Pride, Options for Sexual Health (OPT), Out in Schools, and Qmunity.
She added that they will have a call-to-action session to ask what people would like to see done.
"The day is about creating awareness and education but it's also about saying to the community, 'What would you like to see? What do you need more of?' and then working through Safe 'n' Sound Squamish to bring that to the community."
Dent, who has lived in Squamish since 1994, said she personally has never experienced any direct homophobia.
"Even our kids' friends have looked beyond the fact that we're both women," she said. "And so we've had no issues. We live a very happy life. We can walk along the road holding hands and I don't have any fears or concerns regarding it."
This article is the second part of a series looking at new LGBT initiatives across British Columbia. See the sidebar for links to the other articles in the series.