LGBTQ pride grows in Kelowna

The Okanagan Pride Festival march is held Saturday, Aug. 19

Okanagan pride events are a celebration, but that wasn’t always the case.

Brian McArthur has been involved with Kelowna’s pride community for 17 years and sat on the board of directors with the pride society for a number of them. He said the first march he attended was like a protest.

“(Now) it’s become a way of letting people in the public know you’re not alone and there are resources and other people like you out there. I don’t think the message is any longer ‘here we are, get used to it,’ but there are still a lot of small-minded people living here,” he said.

McArthur said the march he attended, which was in the ’90s, had less than 100 people. Last year’s march had almost 5,000 participants.

“It’s huge compared to what it was. The main difference is there are a lot more people in the community who are out, compared to 15 to 20 years ago,” said McArthur, who enjoyed watching thousands of people stream into City park last year.

Along with people becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ community, he said it’s become easier to connect through social media. Younger generations have also become more accepting of the community, he said.

He feels proud of Kelowna for its changing views and said it’s evolved.

Previously named the Okanagan Rainbow Collation, it became Okanagan Pride in 2004.

“So it’s been 10 years the Okanagan Pride Society has been organizing a pride week or weekend,” said society president Dustyn Baulkham.

The festival continues to grow. It has doubled the amount of vendors since last year, from 33 to nearly 66. This will also be the first year the pride event has a full-page pride guide.

Baulkham is looking forward to the festival in the park with everyone in the public supporting the LGBTQ community and said it’s more important to support the pride community now more than ever, especially with trans rights being challenged south of the border.

“We live in a very privileged society. Our elders and our seniors fought for the rights we now take for granted and so sometimes it is re-educating those people who say ‘I don’t take part in pride’ or ‘does pride really matter?’ because of what’s going on in other parts of the world,” said Baulkham. “We can’t take for granted the rights that we have because they can still be taken away.”

“Shine Bright” is this year’s theme, but nearly 20 years ago, the it had a different tone. The society is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, but LGBTQ awareness campaigns have been in the Central Okanagan for much longer than that.

Pride kicked off Saturday with a Lustre Launch dance party at 10 p.m. at the Kelowna Forum. Monday has an 18-carat golf tournament at Orchard Greens Golf Club at 5 p.m. with the Trans March was held from Tuesday from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Laurel Packinghouse.

Kelowna’s Next Drag Superstar Competition is held Friday at 6 p.m. at the Rotary Centre for the Arts with the annual Pride March scheduled Aug. 19 from Stuart Park to Waterfront Park starting at 10:30 a.m.

For more information and to purchase tickets visit www.okanaganpride.com.