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Queerness is like freckles, ‘it’s just one part of the bigger picture’

Willa Julius, the founder of the Williams Lake Pride Society, discusses safe spaces in a small town
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The Williams Lake Pride Society participates in the 2019 Williams Lake Stampede Parade. (Photo submitted) The Williams Lake Pride Society participates in the 2019 Williams Lake Stampede Parade. (Photo submitted)

Pride Month is one of precisely that, pride for the beautiful and diverse individuals who make up the queer community.

“Learning where people are at and learning what Pride and what queerness represent to that person … It’s so different for everyone. And that’s such a fascinating aspect of the community that I enjoy,” said Willa Julius, who formed the Williams Lake Pride Society (WLPS) after realizing there wasn’t a safe space for 2SLGBTQIA+ people in Williams Lake.

2SLGBTQIA+ includes those who identify as two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and others across the gender and sexuality spectrum, or umbrella, as it’s also called.

Born and raised in Williams Lake, Julius headed to Kamloops to complete the final two years of the Thompson River University’s nursing program. Kirstin McLaughlin was Julius’ nursing professor and also the president of the Pride Society in Kamloops, which inspired Julius to start one in Williams Lake.

“It started really small. The existence was to promote a feeling that queer people within Williams Lake do exist and that they have every equal right to those who identify as straight or cisgender … Visibility is important.”

Pride Month began after activists protested against a police raid of a gay bar in New York in June of 1969. Since then, Pride Parades have grown in size, typically taking place in June, although Williams Lake hosts its official Pride Parade in August.

The importance of safe spaces

When asked about the importance of safe spaces, Julius said they provide community and a place for people to express themselves.

“From my experience and growing up in a smaller community, of course, everyone knows each other and is aware of everyone’s background. There’s not a whole lot of secrets.

“It is hard once people know that you’re out in a smaller community,” which Julius said is not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes safe spaces important so that those who wish to remain quiet can still participate within society and feel safe, along with allies to offer their support.

“Queerness and being part of the community is like having freckles on your face, right? At the end of the day, it’s just one part of the bigger picture.”

Safe spaces help demystify the queer community, encourage learning and provide education and mentors, said Julius.

“Ultimately, that’s the best tool, knowledge and education.”

Pronouns

Gender pronouns are the words we use to identify others in the third person.

For example, she/her/hers, he/him/his or they/them/theirs.

The use of pronouns isn’t a new idea, but people’s comfort levels using alternative pronouns varies, said Julius, who uses they/them/theirs pronouns and identifies as a two-spirit person.

“If you saw me walking down the street, you’d probably think I’m female. I appear to be female, and a lot of my mannerisms are what would be considered a stereotypical female expression, but there’s more to it than that.”

Julius encourages people to think of pronouns like style.

“People grow up, and they develop a sense of style, which can be quite intimate toward how they grew up and how they feel as a person a part of a bigger group. Pronouns are part of it.”

While some people may be fearful of accidentally misgendering someone, Julius said getting pronouns wrong isn’t the end of the world, and if you’re uncertain, simply ask.

“It’s more so, where do you go forward after learning someone’s pronouns? How can you facilitate and be respectful of that person? … It’s all about respect and identity.”

The intersections of identity

We wear hats beyond our sexual and gender identities. One’s race, ethnicity, social and economic class, age, physical abilities, education status and religion also make up who we are and how we see the world.

For Julius, identifying as two-spirit has been one way they’ve connected to their heritage as a Métis person, whose family is one of many who didn’t grow up with the culture they should have due to residential schools. They said it’s been a process of trying to relearn their history, cultural practices and ceremonies.

While two-spirit has sometimes been used as an umbrella term for Indigiqueer people, for Julius, their identity lies more in the traditional meaning.

“Within one person, there are two spirits, male or female. Often times these people were considered quite important to the community, you know, in ceremony … For me, it’s an identity I take pride in, not only because of gender diversity and sexual diversity. It also comes into my pride as an Indigenous person and trying to reclaim those cultural practices and histories.”

Found Family

Regardless of one’s identity, found family or chosen family are crucial people who make up one’s circle of safety and connection. For some, their found family may be due to relocating across the country. For others, it may be the support they’ve found within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.

“It’s inspiring … You see people who are older and have been [out for a long time] and can offer some great, positive mentorship.”

For some, coming out can be a shock, for the individual, their family and friends, said Julius, which is why a group like the WLPS is so important.

“It’s up to the rest of us to introduce you to our bigger family.”

Resources and the future

Julius is optimistic about the future, despite some of the political unrest, and encouraged allies with friends who may be questioning or already part of the community to have patience.

“That’s the biggest thing going forward and trying to learn about Pride. Especially the history of Pride, the history of queerness, the differences between you know, identities, cause everyone is so different. Having that patience and having that kind of appetite for knowledge regarding identities, I feel is really important to be a good ally.”

Julius now lives in Victoria, B.C., where they work as a registered nurse; however, they still call Williams Lake home, return often and are proud of the WLPS. Sunny Dyck is now the group president and described Julius as her “absolute life source of information.”

Here are some resources Julius offered.

Books:

Ivan E. Coyote’s books

“Queer: A Graphic History” by Meg-John Barker and Jules Scheele

Online:

Trans Care BC phsa.ca/transcarebc

Two Spirit Society fourfeathers.net

READ MORE: Vibe City club offers safe space for high school students


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Kim Kimberlin, Local Journalism Initiative

About the Author: Kim Kimberlin, Local Journalism Initiative

I joined Black Press Media in 2022, and have a passion for covering topics on women’s rights, 2SLGBTQIA+ and racial issues, mental health and the arts.
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