She came out earlier this year and Vernon’s Robbie Gardiner has been looking for an inclusive community in the North Okanagan.
She found it.
Gardiner, fellow attendee Debbie Thomas and about 70 others gathered at Vernon City Hall Monday, Aug. 8, to kick off Vernon’s first-ever Pride Week with the raising of the pride flag at city hall. A similar celebration was held at the District of Coldstream.
“I’m excited Vernon finally has a pride event,” said Gardiner, waving her own pride flag during the 20-minute ceremony. “I’m enjoying the celebration, it’s very happy. There’s a lot of work to be done still because a lot of us, at times, don’t feel safe. Our world needs this. This is a great place to grow that.”
Thomas, 64, said it’s difficult being queer in Vernon at her age, as the community tends to be conservative. But she’s thrilled with the pride vibes she’s been feeling leading up to this historic week.
“Older people here tend to be coupled up and go about their lives, but there’s nothing for the rest of us to get out as a group and enjoy each other’s company,” said Thomas. “I came out to this today and I’m just thrilled this is happening.”
Greetings were read by dignitaries Teresa Durning (for MP Mel Arnold), MLA Harwinder Sandhu and acting Vernon mayor Akbal Mund, who brought up fellow city councillors Durning, Kari Gares and Kelly Fehr, along with Regional Director of North Okanagan electoral area C director Amanda Shatzko as a show of togetherness for Pride Week.
Sandhu said while there’s still a long way to go locally, Pride Week will open up dialogue among residents.
“It’s a great chance to educate each other and learn from each other,” she said.
Durning, Arnold’s constituency assistant, said on behalf of Arnold that “Canada is a place of blending cultures, and it’s a wonderful occasion when a community comes together like this to recognize the importance of understanding and inclusion.
“It’s a place where everyone should feel equally safe and comfortable, a place of accepting and welcoming others,” said Durning.
Events are planned throughout the week (check out Vernon Pride on Facebook for schedule), including a Grand March Saturday, Aug. 13, at 10 a.m. starting in the 2900 Plaza (2900 block of 30th Avenue) and heading to the rainbow crosswalk on 30th Avenue.
Vernon pride advocate Dawn Tucker has been named Grand Marshall for the march.
“This week is something that takes leadership and we have a lot of leaders in our community,” said Tucker. “We have leadership supporting us in our community. I hope to see leadership that continues to support us and support this (Pride Week).”
Tucker encouraged the crowd to remember that while the flag raisings are joyous occasions, they shouldn’t be silent bystanders.
“This is a good opportunity for everyone to get some knowledge and celebrate diversity in our community,” she said. “Celebrate the people that we care about and we love, and to support inclusion, especially of our youth, to show that everyone here is not alone.”
This story was updated Tuesday, Aug. 9, at 3:38 p.m., correcting the status of Gardiner and Thomas. We apologize for the error