Queer artist Hannah Wingerter of Fort St. James is pushing boundaries and increasing representation as she paints a pride mural of the side of a church in Prince George.
The summer student at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on Dufferin Avenue is excited about the mural representing a safe space for everyone.
”What we’re trying to cultivate here is that this is a space where the community can come together no matter what religion, ethnicity, sexuality, or orientation you are,” Wingerter said.
”You can come here, and we can work together as a community to try and help make the community a better place, help minorities and give voice to people who don’t have one right now.”
Wingerter identifies herself as a lesbian and said she did not come out until she had moved to Prince George.
Growing up in Fort St. James was no piece of cake for Wingerter who described her childhood church as anti-LGBTQ2+, and brimstone and hell-fire on anyone who was gay, trans, bisexual or lesbian.
“When I got down here, I left church,” Wingerter said. “I’m like I’m done with church, I’m never going back to church—church is wrong, and it’s horrible and all it does is hurts people because that’s all I’ve known of church up until this point.”
Wingerter said in Prince George she initially felt incredibly lonely and isolated, adding that when she came out to her family, they were unsupportive and that she has still not been accepted by them.
As she began to realize she needed a place and community where she could relax and be her true self, her friend Lauren Aldred from Fort St. James suggested she check out the Prince George church.
“At first, I was like church,” Wingerter said with a groan. “Lovely.”
Wingerter said it took her a few months before she was even ready to step on church property again, where she would meet with Pastor Fleming Blishen and they would chat a few times.
“This is still called Christianity, but it’s so much more than just a set of rules, or a book or a sermon on Sunday,” she said.
“This is a place where people are actively trying to help other people, and so I was like wow, I can get behind that, and I found a place here, I found a family here that supports me and loves me, and it’s a safe space for me.”
With the artist taking up the summer student position at the church, keen on trying to make it known to the community as a safe space, the idea of Wingerter painting a mural on the side of the building was brought forward.
Wingerter agreed and began working on funding proposals and connecting with other members of the LGBTQ2+ community on how they would want to be represented in the mural.
The mural will feature images symbolizing new beginnings, growth, coming out, acceptance, freedom and being loved by God and the people around you. The middle will feature painted black tiles with handprints representing the pains and sufferings the LGBTQ2+ community experienced in churches that have not always been a safe space.
Dulux Paints have donated paints with Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, where an outdoor rainbow light heart was installed last December, covering most of the costs of the mural.
The mural is set to be completed later this summer, and Wingerter said she hopes it will inspire other public places and churches to show acceptance to the LGBTQ2+ community.
There may be a possible documentary in the works, that will capture the birth, growth and completion of the mural.
“It’s 2021,” Wingerter said.
“People need to be themselves and not feel like they need to be isolated to do that.”