While the province’s big city Pride events are well-known and regularly attract thousands, community leaders outside of Regina and Saskatoon say Pride is thriving in small-town Saskatchewan as well.
It’s an important trend to preserve, they say, with some explaining to Global News that feelings of isolation and loneliness can be exacerbated when living in a rural community.
“It can be harder in smaller communities, and rural communities,” said Prince Albert Pride Co-chair LJ Tyson.
“A lot of the people in the Queer community who I grew up with had to leave to bigger cities in order to find themselves and their people.”
Prince Albert Pride kicked off its Pride week activities this past weekend in part with the introduction of a new safe spaces campaign.
Over the coming months the organization hopes to begin distributing pride window decals to local businesses which can prove they’ve made efforts to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for the LGBTQ2 community, such as by having gender-neutral washrooms.
Tyson hopes this campaign, along with the rest of the Prince Albert Pride week events, can help people feel secure in holding onto their rural roots.
“Even just visiting bigger city centres, you know there’s that general feeling of more diversity and accepting ways of life,” they said.
“But I always encourage people to make things better for the next generation. That’s why I choose to stay and live in a smaller city like Prince Albert. It’s so important we make our presence known in these smaller centres and create a better life for the ones who come after us.”
Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation is holding its first ever Pride week this month from June 13 to 17.
Events include a parade, flag-raising and two-spirit sharing circles.
Organizer Sheldon Gaetz told Global News that he too has felt the need to move to a larger city in the past.
Gaetz hopes that embracing Pride on the reserve can help others feel like they have a choice.
“In the smaller communities, we don’t have the parades, and we don’t have the centres to go talk to people,” Gaetz said.
“Sometimes you do feel alone. And it’s nice to know in these small communities or on the reserve that there is support for you.”
Southwest Saskatchewan Pride, meanwhile, is celebrating the opening of Swift Current’s first Queer Resource Centre.
“This was a project that was really a pipe dream for many years,” said Southwest Saskatchewan Pride boardmember Shaun Hanna.
“Southwest Saskatchewan Pride has been around since 2012. We’ve been around a while and we had always talked about opening a centre. We’re just getting it off the ground now.”
Its Pride activities kick off in July, in part so that its schedule doesn’t overlap with that of other small-town Pride festivals.
Pride events are also occurring in communities like Moose Jaw, Yorkton, Weyburn, Humboldt, North Battleford and Foam Lake.
Hanna said he’s seen Pride organizations “flourish” in smaller Saskatchewan communities over the past decade, and that the hard work put in by these communities is improving life for all.
“There was always these efforts that unfolded throughout the course of the twentieth century to try to bring rural areas and small towns under a sway of a national consensus of what middle-class life ought to look like,” Hanna said.
“I think we’ve really taken it for granted that rural areas and small towns and sort of inhospitable to queer life. Groups like ours, we really are are sort of pushing back against that narrative that queer people can only thrive in those major metropolitan spaces.”
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