The rainbow crosswalk at Fifth and Fifth was repainted to make sure it was looking good for the Pride Picnic held in June at Blackburn Park. (File photo)

Student raises council’s awareness of ways Salmon Arm can support LGBTQ+ people

Councillor expresses appreciation for presentation based on family member’s experience

A Salmon Arm student provided city council with a lot to think about following her presentation Dec. 9.

Student Fiona Young told council that while the city has some strengths in terms of supporting and being inclusive of LGBTQ+ people much more needs to be done.

Coun. Sylvia Lindgren was openly moved by the presentation, especially where Young spoke about “serious homophobia” in the school district.

Lindgren said when her son was in Grade 11 he was identifying as straight, and still does, but he was targeted as queer, which caused significant issues in his life.

“His vehicle was painted with homophobic slurs, he was attacked in the hallways several times at school. That caused significant anxiety and depression for him including six months of suicide watch, and he’s straight. So this worries me a lot that this is still going on. I have a lot of emotion obviously about how that must affect kids who are queer and identify as queer.”

Read more: Salmon Arm student pushes for increased LGBTQ+ acceptance at schools

Read more: Shuswap PRIDE to hold picnic today at Blackburn Park

In referring to the community’s strengths, Fiona included the rainbow sidewalk by Blackburn Park, the city’s support of Pride events as well as its open tolerance and appreciation for the queer and transgender community.

Listing weaknesses, she said providing mental health is not prioritized, which, if it was, could lead to the specific mental health support appropriate for the two-spirited 2SLGBTQA+ community (or the “alphabet soup” community, as she joked).

Among weaknesses, she said the community doesn’t take action on creating an active safe space for the queer adults and youth of Salmon Arm, and youth in the city are growing up uninformed about queer issues, while queer youth are unsupported by their government. 

She said there are no bylaws that protect queer people against hate crimes or harassment, whether it be in a local business or school.

She provided examples of homophobia within the school district. They included the treatment of posters that were put up in the high school last year in June to announce Pride month as well as to provide hotline numbers for LGBTQ+ students.

“Within 45 minutes they were ripped down, torn up and thrown in the garbage,” she says.

A sticker on a door in the school that stated: “This is a safe place for all students,” was defaced and torn to shreds.

Another set of posters was crumpled up and put in the compost “because people are so eco-friendly,” Fiona said wryly.

She also showed a group chat made by several students that included harsh, threatening slurs.

Fiona offered several suggestions for council and the community, including:

• educate the populace on fact-based queer and transgender topics and how to properly handle hate speech

• expand people’s “cave ideologies”

• participate in international Pride calendars/events

• put a rainbow crosswalk in the heart of downtown  

• create Pride banners on poles for Pride events, and

• have safe space stickers available to local businesses.

Read more: Salmon Arm’s rainbow crosswalk vandalized after one week

Read more: Photos – 50 years of LGBTQ pride showcased in protests, parades

An example of education would be teaching how to use appropriate pronouns and the difference between sex and gender.

She would like to see the town be an inclusive place for new immigrants, for transgender people, for queer people and more. She would like people to be able to come into town, see evidence of welcome, and feel safe.

“I know I feel that way when I go in somewhere and see some sort of Pride mural or anything with rainbows, it makes me feel safe personally.”

As she was speaking, Fiona noticed the picture of Queen Elizabeth in council chambers, flanked by two flags. She suggested adding a Pride flag and a Secwepemc nation flag to them.

The threats that come with staying the same, Fiona said, are that bigotry and misinformation will continue to spread.

Queer and transgender people in Salmon Arm will not be properly represented, those with specific mental health issues will not have them addressed appropriately, and queer and transgender people will continue to feel unsafe in the schools.

Ultimately, she said, the city will not progress, while other cities are taking action, creating a safe place for everyone.

Coun. Kevin Flynn said he thinks some of the things Fiona identified aren’t necessarily city council’s role but he thinks a lot of them are. He would like to take time to absorb it all and figure out how best to support some of her requests.

Flynn, Coun. Tim Lavery and Mayor Alan Harrison thanked her for her passion, leadership and raising council’s awareness.



marthawickett@saobserver.net

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