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LGTBQ community proud to call Kelowna home

Okanagan Pride Society president Wilbur Turner says Kelowna
Okanagan Pride Society president Wilbur Turner says Kelowna's growing acceptance of the LGTBQ community is reflected in the change of heart in its leadership, shown by Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray.
— image credit: Jennifer Smith

"I'm more concerned about what's going on globally than anything locally," says Wilbur Turner, Okanagan Pride Society president.

Wilbur Turner believes the shift came when gay marriage was legalized in Canada a decade ago.

Then again, he’s quite grateful to Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray for the change of heart he’s shown toward the LGTBQ community, particularly for the statement he made this year in his State of the City speech, addressing the treatment of those who identify as LGTBQ in Russia where President Vladimir Putin continues to deny them basic human rights.

“He’s had a change of heart, you know, and I think it’s sincere,” said Turner, president of the Okanagan Pride Society.

He believes Gray is a kind-hearted man.

Kelowna is by and large a great place to celebrate Pride Week these days and this is a marked shift for many members of the LGTBQ community.

Last year at the conclusion of the week-long event, Turner received an email from an individual saying for the first time, he felt proud to be a gay man in Kelowna.

Unlike many cities, Pride is still not a huge to-do here.

Some 2,000 people will attend events throughout the week, with the big ticket item being the drag queen competition, rather than a parade.

The goal for the local organization is to make as much of the festivities free as possible, so rather than a parade, there is a march along the downtown waterfront.

Were it a parade, the society would need to charge those who went in the procession a fee to cover the cost of closing streets and providing the necessary infrastructure.

“My vision has really been to connect with the community at large,” said Turner, noting they’ve just started a bursary for high school students.

Turner arrived in Kelowna in 2011 and quickly assumed the reins of the Pride Festival, though he really had no prior experience throwing events.

He likes the small-town feel of the area, however, both within the LGTBQ community and the community at large and is clearly committed to making the most of it.

Where his former abodes—Vancouver and Calgary—have large, well-structured LGTBQ scenes, he’s happy to be part of a group where there aren’t gay bars or even a centre where people can congregate.

It forces people to work together.

“We actually have a waiting list of people wanting to volunteer,” he said.

“We’re still getting people asking if they can volunteer for the Pride Festival and we can’t accommodate any more.”

Under his leadership, the Okanagan Pride Society joined the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce and has partnered with a number of community groups, including the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society.

It set up a booth at the Downtown Block Party last year, and another at the Vancouver Pride celebrations—to which end, our pride celebration does now get Pride tourism.

He also landed a major sponsorship from OUTtv for 200 commercials last year; this year they did two commercials for the celebration.

Given its $40,000 to $50,000 budget and the relatively short time it has been a serious force on the events scene, it’s astounding that the celebration includes an event for each day of the week.

But there is still work to do.

“We hear stories of things happening, of homophobia. I think the incidents are few, and it’s a minority that are perpetrators of that, but it just reminds us why we have pride,” said Turner.

He is a member of both the national and international pride organizations and knows many LGTBQ communities do not enjoy such a copacetic space.

The theme this year is “local pride, local love,”

“It speaks to celebrating what we can enjoy here, but being mindful of the people who don’t have that in other countries,” he said.

The final pride events run this weekend with a march along Kelowna’s waterfront from 11:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, beginning at Stuart Park, and a festival in City Park, at the Jubilee Bowl from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Friday evening drag competition sold out. They released more tickets, twice, but all were snapped up.

 

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