For the first time in Kelowna, the transgender community is getting a march of its own.
As part of the upcoming Okanagan Pride Festival in August, organizers say they will host the first Trans Pride March and event to be held in the Okanagan on Aug. 11.
Starting at the Sails sculpture at the foot of Bernard Avenue downtown at 6:30 p.m. and proceeding to the Laurel Packinghouse at the corner of Cawston Avenue and Ellis Street, the march will be followed by the inaugural #Stand4Trans in the Okanagan event.
“For many years the rights of the transgender community have largely been ignored with most of the focus and advocacy being for gay and lesbian equality,” said Okanagan Pride president Wilbur Turner.
“It is time for us all to come together and create visibility and to provide education and awareness around transgender equality, rights and freedoms. While there are protections in the law against discrimination, unfortunately for the trans community it has little effect.”
On Wednesday, the Okanagan Pride Society announced it has appointed Sydney Lawson to its board to act as director for transgender community development.
“I am so excited to be a part of the events, in particular, the trans events being held this year for Pride,” said Lawson.
“It’s important for everyone to have a sense of community and events like these help contribute to that. It’s a wonderful time and though there is a long way to go with respect to trans awareness and acceptance many great things have been happening for the trans community. I invite everyone to come out to show their pride and support.”
The Trans Pride March, while part of the week-long Okanagan Pride Festival, will be separate from the larger Pride March, slated to close out the week Aug 15.
Turner said this year, organizers of that march are expecting it to attract its biggest turnout to date, an anticipated 1,000 participants. Last year, an estimated 700 participants took part, a far cry from the 40 people who showed up for the inaugural Gay Pride parade —as it was known then— in Kelowna in 1996.
Back then, amid public outcry, the parade was controversial having attracted vehement opposition by some in the community when city council gave it the green light.
But over the years, the celebration has grown, as has public acceptance and support for the event and the week-long celebration has become a focal point for the local LGBQT community and its supporters.
Even the city’s former mayor, Walter Gray, who ran afoul of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal for his handling of a Gay Pride Day proclamation in late 1990s, became a supporter.
During his last term in office, Gray proudly claimed to have helped forge new ties between the local Pride society and the city and spoke at the annual Pride Festival kick-off events.
His successor Mayor Colin Basran has taken that support a step farther in his first year in office. Basran was recently named the parade marshal for this year’s Pride march, the first Kelowna mayor accorded the honour.
Turner said the idea to invite Basran to be the parade marshal came after he was the first person to respond to a call by the Pride society for volunteer flag bearers to walk in this year’s march.
As for the Trans Pride March, like the Pride March, it too will feature its own large flag carried by participants.
The Pride society is having the 14-foot by 10-foot pink, white and blue Trans Pride flag specially made for the inaugural march. A Gofundme campaign has been started to raise the $700 that the flag will cost to make. The Pride march features a large rainbow flag, representative of the LGBQT community.
At the #Stand4Trans in the Okanagan event, transgender performer Rae Spoon will perform. A songwriter, film score composer, music producer, multi-instrumentalist and published author, Spoon will play a solo set of music from the five albums Spoon has released to date, spanning genres from folk to electronic and indie rock.
This year’s Okanagan Pride Festival will run Aug. 8 to 15 and feature 10 events over the seven days, including a larger, more high-profile launch party Aug. 8 at the Rotary Centre for the Arts. Starting at 8 p.m. and featuring music and dancing, admission to the party will be by donation.