In light of the Canadian government’s new advisory warning 2SLGBTQI+ travellers to be careful when visiting the United States, Kelowna’s queer community wants people to know that the Okanagan is accepting of everyone.
The travel advisory update on August 28 comes after numerous U.S. states passed laws that impact the freedoms of the queer community.
Additionally, earlier this year the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned that threats of violence against the LGBTQ+ community were becoming more frequent and intense.
Advocacy Canada, a Kelowna-based nonprofit organization dedicated to championing the rights and well-being of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community recently unveiled a billboard in West Kelowna that proudly displays the message ‘you belong.’
Wilbur Turner, the founder and chair of Advocacy Canada, spoke with Capital News about the billboard and its messaging. He explained that Advocacy Canada wants everyone to know that all people belong and are celebrated in this community, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“We intend for everyone to feel a part of this, united in our shared experience. As the world faces growing divisions and a rise in hate-motivated crimes against the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, it’s imperative that we find ways to support and celebrate each other,” said Turner.
The billboard was designed by Sarah Jones, an Anishinaabe, Ojibwe and “Indigiqueer” artist who was raised on Syilx Territory. She uses art to express herself and explore her relationship to Indigenous practices.
The message on the billboard displays the phrase kʷu yʕayʕát kʷuʔ čn̓k̓ʷɬn̓xiʔm̓, which translates to “We all join in together / We are all a part of it together,” and is adorned with a wild rose, an eagle feather, a swallowtail butterfly, a strawberry and a maple leaf to represent the beauty of the Okanagan, said Jones.
The Syilx language nsylxcen was translated by the Syilx Language House.
Jones’ design will be displayed on two digital billboards on Syilx land in the Central Okanagan until Dec. 10. Travellers will see the billboard at the intersection of Highway 97 and Commonwealth Road in Lake Country from Aug. 21 until Sept. 17, and from Oct. 16 until Nov. 12, and on Highway 97 at Westside Road in West Kelowna from Sept. 18 until Oct. 15, and then again from Nov. 13 until Dec. 10.
To learn more about Advocacy Canada, access support and resources or donate to program initiatives like the billboard project, visit advocacy-canada.lgbt.
To learn more about the billboard project and the Okanagan You Belong initiative, visit okyoubelong.com.