Pride parades are popping up in some smaller communities in the B.C. Interior this month for the first time, reflecting growing acceptance and a desire for inclusive events and spaces.
Vanderhoof, 100 Mile House, Lillooet and Armstrong are all celebrating their inaugural events this year.
"[LGBTQ folks] are feeling for the first time in their lives living in the North Okanagan that ... there's change afoot here," said Janine Carscadden, who co-founded the Armstrong Pride Society last June.
The Armstrong, Lillooet and 100 Mile House parades have already come and gone, but Vanderhoof residents can bring their rainbow flags out on June 25.
It's been a long time coming — B.C.'s biggest city Vancouver held its first pride parade in 1978.
In Armstrong, Carscadden says she collected 400 signatures from neighbours who wanted to paint a rainbow sidewalk in the city centre last July, a proposal that was unanimously approved by city council three months later.
She says public support for the rainbow sidewalk, which was unveiled on the same day as the Pride festival, shows the North Okanagan community has become more tolerant.
She added that safe spaces like rainbow sidewalks are particularly important for young LGBTQ who grow up in rural areas and have challenges coming out to their families.
"We want to make sure that the young people know that they live in a community that not only accepts them, but celebrates them, loves them, respects them and wants them to shine and thrive," she said.
Safe LGBTQ spaces in southern Interior
In some larger communities in the Interior, Pride events have been around for a while, but Kamloops Pride Society president Ashton O'Brien said safe spaces are still critically needed.
O'Brien says even though LGBTQ people in the city have become more visible and face less hate and violence than in past years, more could be done to make the city inclusive.
The Kamloops Pride Society is advocating for more sensitivity from local businesses and members have been dropping off a guidebook to local shop owners explaining pronouns and describing proper etiquette for checking IDs.
"Part of our job is not just to create [and] facilitate those safe spaces for the queer community, but also to try to encourage and empower businesses to facilitate those spaces as well," O'Brien said.
In Kelowna, Dustyn Baulkham created the event company Rebellious Unicorns, which organizes events at local bars and nightclubs tailored to the LGBTQ community.
In 2020, Kelowna's first and only gay pub, Friends of Dorothy, opened, and Baulkham says that too has made the gay scene safer and more vibrant.
"It's opened up some new opportunities for people within the LGBT communities to meet," he said.
Physical gay spaces still matter
University of British Columbia sociology professor Amin Ghaziani specializes in urban sexualities, and says despite the connectivity the LGBTQ community may find online, physical spaces are important.
Ghaziani said society has become more accepting of LGBTQ folks, and many members of the community are moving out of urban centres where gay bars and neighbourhoods have provided safe havens.
Brick-and-mortar institutions like queer bars and rainbow crosswalks are still important now outside of big urban centres, says Ghasziani.
"A lot of these individuals — trans people of colour, for instance — are still at risk for escalating rates of hate crimes, and so there is a need to feel safety somewhere," he said.
To learn more about gender identity, listen to They & Us, an award-winning CBC podcast that explores first-person stories of transgender and non-binary Canadians, available now on CBC Listen, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.