Let me say first and foremost that due to my health issues I honestly did not think that I would participate in the march yesterday. I actually only showed up to help a family friend with her costume but it occurred to me once I got to City Hall that no matter how shitty I was feeling physically, this was an event that I could not miss. From the bottom of my heart I will never forget that I had the privilege of walking in the first ever Surrey BC LBGTQ Pride March.
Although it may not seem like it, Surrey BC’s first ever LGBTQ Pride march is a huge step up for our small city.
In 2015 the City of Surrey estimated that just over half a million people are now living in our small town. While we are growing strong and every day progress is taking over we still have a very long way to go.
I still remember that just a few short years ago across the street from the very site of the current Surrey City Hall stood two very dilapidated “Crack Shacks” known for violent drug deals. In fact on three of the four corners that surround our current City Hall there were other homes rented out to drug dealers. They were dens of a disturbing amount of drug abuse filled with men and women who worked in the sex trade.
While I wasn’t a fan when I found out Surrey City Hall would be moving to our small Whalley community even I have to admit that a lot of great things have come with the gigantic move.
Not so long ago I had the opportunity to meet with a youth group called “Youth for a Change.” These amazing LGBTQ youth had some very heart breaking stories to tell me.
One young girl told me how her parents decided in order to protect her from her lesbian desires they basically grounded her to her room. She was cut off from friends outside her immediate family, the thinking being that if they kept her isolated this would change her desires and who she was as a person. Obviously this did not work.
Many others told stories of being physically removed from their home and cut off from their families.
A young trans man who is arguably the kindest gentlest soul I’d ever met. While he lives at home life isn’t all together easy for him. To this day he has family who grudgingly has chosen to accept his desire to transition, but reminds him daily that at birth he was born female and they would prefer if he’d stay that way.
Yesterday a young man confessed that he has finally made the decision to transition into a woman.
I have seen these young women and men grow under the tutelage of Dr Jen Marchbank and her wife Sylvie. It’s been a pleasure to be taken into their confidence and to be able to see them become more comfortable with their sexuality.
The Surrey Gay Pride society and it’s early founder Martin Rooney have fought for the last two years for a Gay Pride Parade and the march yesterday has announced to all the world that LGBTQ are finally welcome and have a safe home in Surrey BC.
For many adults finding a safe place in Surrey BC to hang out with other members of the LGBTQ community has been hard to find. The Flamingo Hotel and Lounge has since filled the missing “Gay Bar Gap” but even that I think is grudgingly so.
Many staff and guests have stories of verbal and emotional gay bashing that happens within the walls.
In a lot of ways even though Surrey BC has grown in leaps and bounds and yet we still have a very long way to go.
One of the saddest things one of the youth of YFAC once said to me is that Surrey BC is not a safe place for LGBTQ youth. It never occurred to me that the reason Vancouver has so many LGBTQ youth is because Vancouver is much more welcoming of the community than that of smaller cities.
In recent years I learned that many Vancouver Youth are actually from places like Surrey, BC – Langely, Richmond and Burnaby. Places were the LGBTQ community is small, contained and “quiet.”
Whereas people in Vancouver are out loud and proud in smaller cities people feel less comfortable with their sexuality and coming out because there are not many safe places for these people to go.
Recently a man came out after the Orlando shootings and said “You cannot imagine what it feels like to be hated simply for existing.” While I think that many minority groups feel this way it never occurred to me that people in my own city felt this way. Much less men and women I love and adore.
I do not mind saying that I very much consider Dr. Jen Marchbank, her son Jake and her wife Sylvie as family. Vera LeFranc is a member of our City Council, a woman who is also a part of the LGBTQ community and the voice of reason when it came to City Hall hanging the pride flag for the first time ever this year.
It made me sad to find out that our Mayor Linda Hepner has apparently made it very clear that they would hang it this year and only this year.
We have come so far in terms of hosting the march and hanging the flag and the idea that next year we will be taking a step back by taking the flag down makes me sad, angry and sick.
I understand that this year Surrey City Council has chosen to show a state of solidarity with the victims of Orlando but it makes me wonder what they are really saying if they refuse to hang the flag next year.
When we take one step forward and twelve steps back we are showing that we are not very proud of our citizens, we are not a welcoming community.
Surrey City Hall has worked hard along with the various organizations and volunteers in our community over the last few years to change the way that people look at Surrey, BC.
Once considered the murder capital of British Columbia we now have an opportunity to show that we are a open welcoming community of people from all walks of life and yet what we’re saying is “We’ll host the flag this year because every other city is doing it but you still aren’t welcome because we are already preparing to say we won’t host the flag next year.” Perhaps I am wrong in my thinking but I am not certain just how many people recognize how important the march was yesterday.
I would say that there were less than 2000 attendees at the events yesterday and yet to be a part of that march to see how many people who walked simply because they wanted to be a part of the march was amazing. It was an experience that I won’t soon forget.
It was beautiful to see families and men and women of all races, colors, creeds, nationalities, sizes, genders, orientations. It was one of those moments when I can honestly say I was truly proud of how far my city has come and we in the LGBTQ community don’t often have the ability to say that.
One of the most amazing organizations that many people do not even know exist is the “Red Ribbons for Life”. It’s an HIV / AIDS food bank that caters specifically to people who live with HIV and AIDS.
It is long past time that we make room for LGBTQ people in our city. That we let youth know that they do not have to live on the streets of Vancouver – that we create safe spaces for people of LGBTQ adults and youth in our town. We have literally 1 – the Flamingo a place that isn’t expected to be here in the next ten years.
I humbly invite all people of the LGBTQ community to storm the gates of Surrey, BC. If we have to fight to host a flag, to have a parade to celebrate the freedom of being human, to embrace the very right to exist regardless of sexuality or orientation color or creed or nationality then I say we make as much noise as we possibly can.
Instead of waiting until next year to ask for City Hall to host the flag I ask that anyone and everyone attend every city hall meeting from now until next year’s Surrey Pride Festival.
I am a big believer in the idea that “Until we are all free, none of us will be free.” If we are a growing city recognizing change and growth then we must agree if we marginalize one group based on their sexuality then we in reality are marginalizing all groups regardless of age, race, creed, nationality, size, color, orientation and yes sexuality.
You cannot Mayor Hepner open the door to hosting the Pride Flag one year whilst with the other side of your mouth telling us that you will only host it the one year. It sends a clear and present message that LGBTQ members of our community are not welcome and after yesterday that would be a lie.
Many men and women that I worked with for more than fifteen years as a homeless and drug addiction advocate and counselor taught me that there are far too many living on our city streets because they were abused based on who they are as people.
No one grows up wanting to be addicted to drugs or homeless but if we continue to force people to hide their true selves than we are only adding to the problems of drug addiction and homelessness.
Isn’t it time in 2016 that we step up and say our city is a loud proud community of people from all walks of life?
I want to extend a huge thank you for all the groups and organizations, craft makers and vendors who showed up to support Surrey Gay Pride yesterday and continue in their every day lives to support humans from all walks of life. You do a huge service to man kind simply by being a supportive fellow human being.
If you’d like more information on the organizations I mentioned please click the links below.
With all my love