Throughout Pride Month, the Listowel Banner will feature a series of articles exploring the lives of LGBTQ2S+ community members, their influence on the community and supports available for them, their families and friends in North Perth.
North Perth has historically been an isolated area for members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, their families and friends, but in recent years that has shifted.
About five years ago, Sheree Fleischauer co-founded True Colours. Her daughter is a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community and she did a thesis at university about dating for people who identify as non-binary.
“She did a survey and she allowed me to see the results,” said Fleischauer. “It was eye-opening… how absolutely terrifying it is for anybody who is not in the binary of the male-female to date. So many of them were hurt. It was very dangerous for a lot of them and I thought that was terrifying.”
She was speaking to women she played volleyball with about her daughter’s thesis.
“One woman walked out to the car with me, and I don’t even really know her,” said Fleischauer. “She told me this really tragic story about her daughter. When she was in high school she had a female partner she was hanging out with all the time and that female partner died from suicide in high school.”
She started thinking parents needed a place where they can talk to people about those kinds of things and not be afraid that somebody is going to hear, especially if you are in a small town. “That’s kind of how (True Colours) started,” said Fleischauer. “I think the max was five people that ever came. We just talked about issues and shared stories and we started the Facebook page so that people who were interested in talking to other people or getting information, it was there.”
When they started, most of the parents attending had children who were homosexual but in the last few years, more of the people that have joined have transgender kids.
“They are looking for help and I didn’t have that kind of knowledge,” she said. “We weren’t there to give advice, we were just there to kind of see if we could find resources so they could access them from us.”
Fleischauer has had other things happening in her life that have diverted her attention away from True Colours in recent years, so she has been wondering if the time has come to seek a new administrator for the group.
“There isn’t (many supports for LGBTQ2S+ community in Perth County),” she said. “I know that Huron-Perth Centre has assisted kids who were struggling with their identity as part of their counselling but it’s not advertised, it’s when a family feels a child needs counselling they go there but they don’t advertise they meet with LGBTQ2S+ kids or anything.”
Fleischauer said she started with good intentions and then life got in the way and then there was the COVID-19 pandemic so that essentially stopped activity for True Colours.
“We have so many kinds of people here and they all need to be accepted,” she said. “Again, it was just a grassroots, if parents need someone to talk to or need some information we can help you.”
As activity slows down for True Colours, momentum is picking up for the newly established North Perth Pride.
It all started two years ago when Gebadia Haverkamp found out about Minto Pride.
“They were having a drag show and I thought – that’s pretty cool,” he said. “It was a good night and it was lots of fun. There was a huge turnout which I was very surprised and happy to see it.”
He thought to himself if a smaller town like Harriston can do it, “why the heck can’t it happen here in Listowel.”
Haverkamp set something up for 2020 but the pandemic shut down those plans.
In the meantime, he met Hollie and Birdie Chavarria, owners of Birdie’s Holy Guacamole, and North Perth Pride started to take more shape as an organization.
“We had reposted (Haverkamp’s) article about being a gay farmer,” said Hollie. “We got a lot of feedback to us about that and I had passed that on… and we were like – we should do this, we should make it official. Let’s do something.”
“So then that’s when we decided to do something a little more for the area,” said Haverkamp. “Hollie and Birdie came up with the website and we came up with the name, ‘North Perth Pride.’”
They are gleaning information and experience from Minto Pride, even establishing a connection to the community through a logo design contest that is currently happening at northperthpride.com.
“We’ve been able to use the restaurant as a means to facilitate some discussions about the LGBTQ2S+ community and I had a student message me saying she was part of the Gay-Straight Alliance at the school,” said Hollie. “I told Geb and he was like – I didn’t even know there was one.”
She said between the four founding members of North Perth Pride all have different skills which complement one another well.
“I think we’ll get to the point where we’ll want even more involvement from the community, more volunteers and things like that,” said Hollie.
Haverkamp is planning a fundraiser on his property for July 24, if COVID-19-related Public Health regulations permit, which will raise money for a larger event next year.
“It’s nice that Minto has done it more recently because those footsteps they are leaving are fairly fresh for us to find out what worked and what didn’t work,” said Hollie.
Haverkamp has contacted North Perth council asking it for support and a designation next year for Pride Month and for the Pride flag to be flown by the municipality.
“The other thing we have asked for is a rainbow crosswalk,” he said. “It’s not just about being gay or lesbian or queer. It’s about being inclusive of the community that you are in and that’s what the rainbow is meant to resemble. I mean in June it’s heightened to be around Gay Pride, but as far as the rainbow goes, it’s inclusive and happy to everyone… This year more so than ever I find the awareness about Pride is out more.”
“That’s true,” said Hollie. “I’ve only lived in Listowel for two years so I don’t know it as well as (Haverkamp) and what that’s been like previously.”
She credits Minto Pride with allowing people to feel safer coming out in small towns locally.
The fundraiser on July 24 is going to be on Haverkamp’s property near Donegal with a DJ and a quick one-hour drag show.
“We’re still waiting to see what capacity limits we can do,” he said. “We will be able to do the social distancing thing and have a safe environment for everybody. We’re just waiting to see how many tickets we can sell. Hopefully, it’s well-received and we’ll see where we go. Onwards and upwards.”
Mayor Todd Kasenberg told the Banner he is willing to lend his voice to advocate for better supports for the LGBTQ2S+ community right here in North Perth.
“I am committed to creating a great welcoming community, and it is incomplete without the LGBTQ2S+ community feeling truly at home,” he said. “I want to introduce a safe space for encounters between the LGBTQ2S+ community and their elected municipal officials. I offer to spearhead a regular consultation meeting, with the intent to create a safe space for discussion about our common issues and interests in building a welcoming community. A welcoming community is very much a part of my agenda as an elected official in North Perth.”
Currently in response to correspondence from North Perth Pride, municipal staff is preparing a report to inform council on how it can best support the LGBTQ2S+ community and future Pride celebrations. Kasenberg acknowledged that council might have to make some adjustment to policy to allow the Pride flag to fly on municipal properties.
“From a policy and practice perspective, North Perth has, since its beginning, required community initiative for requests for the flying of flags or conduct of parades,” he said. “These activities must be approved by council, for the long-standing policy is to fly a very few flags at our municipality’s sites – namely, flags of the municipality, the Province of Ontario, and Canada… Council has the authority to make exceptions to the current standing policy and practice on a vote.”
“In my opinion, there is a range of beliefs about the presentation of flags,” said Kasenberg. “A flag which can be perceived to express support for slavery in the United States, flown on private property in Perth County, brought me into the arena of advocating for efforts towards diversity, inclusivity, and anti-racism in our county. It has not been an easy cause, to be honest; many believe that there is no problem with such matters in Perth County. I believe that the Confederate flag is a hate symbol. And I would never, never see it flown from a pole on public property.”
“I can look ahead 25 to 50 years, and strongly believe that such concerns will be moot then except as history – because while the arc of the universe is long, it bends towards social justice. We will see changes in the social landscape that will bring about equity and diversity, and it will continue to be my privilege to work towards it while I have breath. I pray that discrimination and intolerance will dissolve as we come to a greater understanding of our common humanity. In looking towards our future, in looking at our common humanity and the inherent rights attendant with it, and believing that the Rainbow flag is a symbol of hope and defiance against what has long been oppressive towards a group of our sisters and brothers, I would personally vote in favour of permitting the flag. But I can appreciate that this community needs a say in this effort because it reflects a commitment. A commitment to action. My bottom line is that the flying of a Rainbow flag must not be for optics or a virtue signal, but it must encourage our community towards greater social inclusion. So I definitely want to hear from the community about how we facilitate that work,” said Kasenberg.
Colin Burrowes is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Listowel Banner. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner