With momentum building towards having recognition for LGBTQ2S+ members of the community, in the form of a flag, bench or crosswalk, many citizens have reached out to the Vanderhoof Mayor to take the conversation further.
The Express spoke with Mayor Gerry Thiessen, Kjerstina Larsen and Sasha Striegler Iannone who are involved in this discussion.
Kjerstina Larsen, who identifies as asexual, has recently come out to her family. She is one of many who have reached out to Thiessen to lobby for a symbol of recognition for the queer community in Vanderhoof. She is hoping to have a meeting with him before the New Year.
“My struggles have been few compared to many of my comrades. I’ve never truly been officially “out” though I suppose I am now. I am fairly new to the LGBTQ2S+ community.”
Larsen said the lack of education around different sexualities growing up was a struggle.
“I didn’t know I was asexual until recent years. I thought I was broken.”
When she learned about asexuality, Larsen said it was startling.
“For years I had been convinced I was defective. That I was wrong. That I didn’t belong.”
She said it was an ‘incredible revelation” to discover that she was valid and wasn’t alone. But after her self-discovery, Larsen said she felt isolated as there were no groups for LGBTQ2S+ in Vanderhoof that she knew of.
“It wasn’t until very recently that I have started to build a community, and disclose to people who and what I am. Much of this isolation stemmed from my fear of “coming out”. I was afraid of being labelled. I was afraid of being bullied. I was afraid because few people know what asexuality is… and people I opened up to, expected me to explain my sex life and existence to them, because they don’t want to do their own research. I didn’t want to live with all the misinformation or the abuse of homophobic persons.”
Larsen says she is concerned that Vanderhoof may not welcome her due to her sexuality. But has reached out to the Mayor to get a symbol of pride in the community, so others in her position, don’t feel isolated or alone.
“Apart from it being a symbol of acceptance and inclusivity, I truly believe that having a crosswalk, a mural, a bench, or a flag can help us learn to be proud of who we are. Representation is a way to show acceptance to others, and reminds the LGBTQ2S+ community that we are valid. We are real. It helps to reminds us that we are not broken, that we are also a beautiful people, even if we love differently. And with this comes self acceptance. And self acceptance will lead to a harm reduction in our community members,” she said.
For Sasha Striegler Iannone, an LGBTQ2S+ activist in the community, this is a conversation that began when she realized she was bisexual, shortly after leaving Vanderhoof for university.
“Previous to that, I didn’t have the language to explain how I felt, and who I was. But I always felt different from my peers for a reason I couldn’t describe.”
Striegler Iannone reached out to Thiessen voicing her support for a rainbow crosswalk, and asking for more visible and tangible ally-ship from Vanderhoof’s leadership. She said the Mayor arranged for a phone call which took place Nov. 6.
“Mayor Thiessen and I spoke about my experiences growing up as a queer person in Vanderhoof. I spoke about the struggle of feeling out of place, of not having the education to describe myself, and the hurt I felt when observing the sometimes blatant homophobia of my peers and community members.”
“We then discussed his willingness to stand behind the LGBTQ2S+ community and how it was important that the mayor and council consult with that community on how best to represent and support them,” she said.
Striegler Iannone said the conversation went well. She said she had her reservations before going into the call, so she was “incredibly moved” when she realized there was “firm support from leadership for a marker of LGBTQ2S+ solidarity and inclusivity.”
As a result of this conversation Striegler Iannone is going to be the point of contact for the LGBTQ2S+ community in Vanderhoof.
She is encouraging other LGBTQ2S+ residents of Vanderhoof to write to her via Facebook Messenger or email firstname.lastname@example.org to share their thoughts about the kind of marker they feel will best represent and show support of the queer community.
Markers could include a rainbow sidewalk, a pride flag in certain location(s) around town, a mural, etc.
Additionally, if you are interested in being a part of the group that discusses the topic with the Mayor and council directly, reach out to Striegler Iannone.
“I’m happy to listen to any stories, concerns, or suggestions regarding what the mayor and council can do to further support LGBTQ2S+ people in the town. All feedback is useful, and the more voices we have, the more we can ensure that we make the best choices about how to represent our community.”
Thiessen told the Express that he has had numerous emails and phone calls from people who want some recognition in the community.
The topic of having an LGBTQ2S+ symbol of recognition came up at council on Nov. 9, and Thiessen said council wants to understand what they can do within their budget.
He believes there is still a conversation to be had about the best way to show that recognition.
“We are hearing from council that there is a desire to make us an inclusive town, and that we embrace the individuals in our town. There is certainly a desire to make sure everyone feels safe and included,” Thiessen said.
He said a delegation to council isn’t the best way to have this conversation as of now.
“I would want people to understand that this is a process. This isn’t a one time solution. This will be a process. We will need to work together as a community and find the best way to show inclusiveness in the community.”
Thiessen said the cost associated with having a symbol of recognition isn’t the issue. “I think its a way of having a conversation. To me, it’s a social concern and we need to address that. Sometimes conversations come up through the budget process. I think that’s where this thought process went.”
“I think there will be a conversation as the winter goes along, and we need to find a way to sit down and address our concerns. I want to be very careful about how we get through the next couple of months, to hear people out, to be very careful and very thoughtful.”
“I think the community of Vanderhoof is ready for this conversation. I am encouraged by that. This will be an interesting winter and we will work through this and come out a stronger community in so many ways,” he added.