Recently, an RCMP member in Fort St. James sent a letter to her district advocating for a Pride Sidewalk in the regional district. Since then there has been interest shown by residents and LGBTQ2S+ members of the community to have a pride sidewalk in Vanderhoof as well.
“It is an amazing thing how much a tiny rainbow can change my experience,” says Sasha Striegler Iannone, a member of the LGBTQ2S+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Two-Spirit, and others) community.
Striegler Iannone is a resident of Vanderhoof and works as the Communications Manager at Saik’uz First Nation.
“It is so very easy to feel isolated and alone, and sometimes even unsafe. A rainbow, even an inch-by-inch square, in a window or on a door can be the difference between feeling unwelcome and viewed as undesirable and feeling at ease, wanted and included,” she told the Express in response to questions about why she personally thought having a pride sidewalk is important in Vanderhoof.
For her a crosswalk takes that feeling of being wanted and included, and “magnifies it”.
“It’s an expression by the community and community leadership that people like me are welcome, included and acknowledged.”
In a email response to Express questions on July 24, Mayor Gerry Thiessen said, “To-date I am not aware of anyone requesting council for a Pride Crosswalk. As Mayor it is my conviction that a physical marker such as a crosswalk should be something that reveals the heart and compassion of Vanderhoof, these qualities include inclusiveness and embracing their fellow residents. I look forward to dialogue with citizens of Vanderhoof on how we can show these qualities in the future.”
Striegler Iannone said she hasn’t ever asked Mayor or Council to install a pride sidewalk, crosswalk or support a pride parade. She said for many years she felt it was not safe for her to openly be bisexual, as she had been warned by people that her personal life, family well-being and career would suffer, if she came out.
However, recently she finds that leadership in Vanderhoof has become more open and supportive of LGBTQ2S+ people, “although there is a long way to go.”
Striegler Iannone has also asked other members of the community to write to Mayor and council, to show their support for this initiative. Residents can send emails to the mayor at email@example.com.
“I’m much more comfortable with my identity now. I have community that supports me in being my true and authentic self,” she said.
“Vanderhoof is my home. It has always been my home. When I advocate for a rainbow sidewalk or pride parade, it’s because I’m tired of being told, explicitly or implicitly that I don’t belong, that there’s something wrong with me, or that I am hated.”
“I don’t want the youth of this community to ever hear some of the things that have been said to me for being who I am,” Striegler Iannone said.
For Shauna Kinch, a transgender youth counsellor in the region, a pride sidewalk supports equality and the LGBTQ2S+ community.
“People need to feel safe, they need to feel acceptance, and that they are not being judged for who they are. Putting pride stickers on business windows and providing a sidewalk supports equality and the LGBTQ2S+ community in their right to be themselves.”
Kinch said she asked the transgender youth who she provides counselling to, about what their thoughts were in relation to having a pride sidewalk in Vanderhoof. Youth wrote one to two-word answers such as — feel seen and heard; safe; open doors; Ok to be; First step.