By Ezra Black
The Beers and Queers event was a big step forward for the Elk Valley’s LGBTQ community, said a Calgary-born activist.
“I mean it is 2017 and we’re just organizing for the first time,” said Fernie Pride Society secretary Kevin Allen at the Jan. 12 event.
It was the Fernie Pride Society’s first-ever official social gathering. About 30 people attended and it will be held on the second Thursday of every month at The Valley Social.
The Fernie Pride Society was formally incorporated on December 13, 2016. Its volunteers began discussing the idea of forming a non-profit society after a summer barbecue revealed that there were a lot of queer people in the Elk Valley.
“Some people organized it and about 40 people showed up,” said Allen. “We were all shocked that there were this many people in the community. We realized we wanted to do more things together and we wanted to support young people who are coming out.”
Allen said, “It was time for the Elk Valley to have this kind of organization.”
“My husband grew up here when it was a mining town before the ski hill. It was very conservative. It was very hard to be gay. It wouldn’t have been safe back in the ‘70s or ‘80s,” he said.
Allen is the former research lead of the Gay Calgary History Project, a group dedicated to sharing Calgary’s LGBTQ story. He recently moved to Fernie.
Since its founding, Fernie Pride has received approximately $2,000 in seed funding for programming. The Columbia Basin Trust supported the society through their Social Grants program. They have partnered with the Fernie Women’s Resource Centre in the application process and have received a discretionary grant from the City of Fernie.
Allen said Fernie Pride’s board of directors is discussing initiatives to celebrate people of every gender and sexual orientations in the Elk Valley. There is chance the society could be involved in the Griz Days Winter Festival, he said.
“There are a lot of young people struggling with gender identity issues and sexual orientation issues. We’re here to support, provide information and celebrate,” he said. “We [also] want to challenge any remaining bits of homophobia or transphobia that is in this town.”
Beers and Queers attendees were pleased that the Elk Valley’s LGBTQ community is finally organizing.
“I was stoked to hear about it,” said Sarah Deschenes. “I know there are so many queers in town and I saw a few rainbow stickers in windows but there was nothing organized.”
“I think it might have to do with the fact that there are people from all over the world here,” added Olivia Turner-Clarke, another attendee. “It’s like a melting pot of different cultures and identities so I think it’s a lot easier for a small town like this to progress and accept new ideas and new people.”