Safety. This is a word that has arisen many times at city council meetings.
But the topic more recently hasn’t just been about dangerous highway intersections or deadly poison in drugs.
The topic has been about growing up or living in this town as an LBGTQ2S+ (lesbian, bisexual, gay, transexual, queer or questioning, two-spirit plus) person and not feeling safe.
Particularly not feeling safe in school, sometimes not feeling safe with other residents, not feeling safe in particular parts of town and, for some, not feeling safe at home. These are realities young people have made public.
It takes a moment, I think, for that to sink in. To realize how many children have grown up in Salmon Arm over the years who did not feel safe in this town because of homophobia and accompanying ridicule, bullying, violence. This is not to downplay the effects of racism and poverty and other oppressions that affect children, but this particular one seems to have largely gone unchallenged by the community in general. Not completely, good things have been done, but largely.
This harsh reality emphasizes the beauty of Salmon Arm’s first Pride Project Arts & Awareness Festival, which was held in October.
The brilliance and courage of the people who worked so hard on this festival, which turned out to be perfectly timed and presented, was a huge step forward in understanding.
Here is one of the things that Tracey Kutschker, a festival organizer, reported to city council after the event.
“I know that young people came from Kelowna, Vernon, Kamloops and Vancouver who grew up here and didn’t feel safe here, had traumatic things happen in high school, and found out we were doing a Pride anything – and had to come and see it. They had to come and see what Salmon Arm was doing because they didn’t think it was possible here.”
I think, as the organizers have said, that this was a life-changing festival. It provided hope and the recognition that allies exist in this town. And, lest we forget, the battle is not just for LBGTQ2S+ people. This oppression affects everyone in some way. It forces people to narrow their lives, to set unnecessary limits on everything from clothing to affection, to self-censor and disconnect from each other.
Thanks are due to those who put on this amazing festival, which will return next year. May we all live more open, understanding and loving lives.