While June’s Pride Month celebrations have been quieter this year, the Williams Lake Pride Society has plenty in store once COVID-19 restrictions allow for a little more leeway.
During a normal year, Pride Month is a time for the world’s LGBTQQIA2S+ communities to celebrate the freedom to be themselves. Across the globe, various events are typically held during the month, which marks the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City in June of 1969.
In Williams Lake, the pride society hosted its inaugural Pride in the Puddle festivities in July of 2019, which featured two days of activities including the first ever Williams Lake Pride! Parade, events in Boitanio Park, a social dinner and a gathering at Scout Island Nature Centre. The event proved successful bringing the LGBTQQIA2S+ community, allies and the wider community together to celebrate the important step forward.
In March of 2019, the WLPS also hosted the first CampOUT! in the Cariboo at Gavin Lake — the first event of its kind hosted north of the Lower Mainland in B.C.
The WLPS was founded as a committee in 2017, and has since become a non-profit organization formally incorporated under the BC Societies Act as of October of 2018, relying on fundraising and public events to operate. The society currently runs with a board of eight directors.
The society’s mission statement is: to promote LGBTQQIA2S+ visibility and rights, build a stronger and safer community within Williams Lake and the Cariboo, facilitate social gatherings, educational workshops, health and wellness initiatives and other broadly positive experiences for community members and to actively liaise with other groups, organizations, business and societies.
And while the pandemic has put a halt to social gatherings and events for the past two years, WLPS president Whitney Spearing and treasurer Brittany Cleminson said the feedback and momentum gained from that initial event has been phenomenal, and carried forward.
“Locally we’ve had a really great response since then,” Cleminson said. “We feel like the community is getting there, but there is still work to do. We could still offer more resources, and I think there are gaps there in education.”
While peoples’ perceptions of the LGBTQQIA2S+ community in Williams Lake have been, for the most part, welcoming and understanding, Spearing noted discrimination has reared its head a few times — particularly on social media.
Spearing is also the head of the PAC at Cataline elementary, and helped spearhead the project for the installation of gender neutral washrooms in 2019.
“The amount of backlash was pretty incredible at the time online,” Spearing said. “But once people saw it, and how it looked and functioned, they were like: ‘OK, that’s great.’”
The WLPS also faced opposition prior to, and following, the installation of a rainbow crosswalk at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Borland Street.
“One youth did a huge burnout on the crosswalk,” Spearing said. “They were caught, and flat out refused to accept their punishment, and so did their parents, so that’s upsetting.”
Stigmas, meanwhile, also still exist, particularly within industry, both Cleminson and Spearing noted.
Providing support to the community has also presented a challenge throughout the pandemic, as the society has been forced to call off its weekly meetings and coffee nights in favour of virtual Zoom sessions.
At the high school, meanwhile, the Gay Straight Alliance — Vibe City — is available to offer support to students, and BGC Williams Lake also offers a LGBTQQIA2S+ specific drop-in night.
“It’s not the same, of course,” Cleminson said, noting everyone is looking forward to the return of in-person events and bi-monthly meetings. “People are getting Zoomed out.”
Once again in 2021, Pride in the Puddle will be held virtually from July 23-24 in Williams Lake. Currently, organizers are tossing around a few ideas to help make the event a festive one.
“Throughout the month we’ll be asking business to renew their safe space stickers, and fullFILL has committed to doing Pride Month stickers,” Spearing said, noting they will also be selling rainbow-themed, sustainable merchandise with a portion of the proceeds being donated to the pride society. “Maybe we will do a car parade, and get together a few gift baskets as giveaways.”
The WLPS also thanked the City of Williams Lake for selecting them as a recipient of $2,500 in COVID-relief funding in order to repaint the rainbow crosswalk, and for supporting its inaugural Pride in the Puddle event in 2019.
As for the rest of Pride Month, the society plans to continue to spread awareness and education in the community.
“We are just regular people in the community,” Spearing said. “We have families, we are scout leaders, we’re members of search and rescue, and, really Pride Month is just all about that celebration. It’s a worldwide movement. It really is.”
Cleminson added it is truly encouraging to see the progress in peoples’ attitudes since she arrived in Williams Lake from Northern Ontario just a few short years ago.
“Everyone in this community deserves to be safe, comfortable, loved and supported.”
For more on the Williams Lake Pride Society visit its website at www.williamslakepride.com or Facebook page at ‘Williams Lake Pride Society.’ They are also working on setting up a Discord server, and can be reached by email at email@example.com.