Wetaskiwin explores next steps to build more inclusive city

·3 min read

Wetaskiwin city council has passed a motion that could see a growing grassroots campaign of inclusivity become official.

On July 20, the mayor and councillors voted unanimously in favour of a motion directing administration to look at options for a city-wide campaign to continue to build a welcoming and safe community for Indigenous and LGBTQ2S+ residents.

The motion passed on the same week the mother of a gay teenager received a hateful letter after hanging a Pride flag in her front yard to enter a Canada Day competition.

Jessi Hanks received hundreds of supportive responses when she shared the letter on social media.

Earlier this month, dozens of residents and local leaders attended an inclusivity rally after two-spirit activist Chevi Rabbit was the target of transphobic comments at a restaurant.

Gabrielle Blatz-Morgan
Gabrielle Blatz-Morgan

'Our community is doing amazing work right now to show that we're all here for each other," Counc. Gabrielle Blatz-Morgan, who introduced the motion, said in an interview Monday.

She said her motion also stemmed from experiences of Indigenous residents who have posted online about being the target of rude comments or discrimination in shops.

Blatz-Morgan, who is Métis, said she knows what it's like to be on the receiving end of racist comments and attitudes.

We want to make everybody feel included and accepted for who they are." - Counc. Gabrielle Blatz-Morgan

"I wanted to do something to make people feel more comfortable and confident knowing that their city council will stick up for them and that we see these issues," Blatz-Morgan said. " We want to make everybody feel included and accepted for who they are."

The campaign will have an educational component that helps people recognize what racism and homophobia look like and how to avoid speaking in a way that discriminates against others, she said. A report from administration is due back on Sept. 28.

Jessi Hanks
Jessi Hanks

On Sunday, Blatz-Morgan was one of roughly 40 people who painted Hanks' front-yard fence in the colours of a rainbow in response to the letter.

"It was so charged with positive energy," Hanks told CBC, recalling the COVID-safe event.

Hanks said city council's motion is sorely needed to tackle homophobia in the community, but Sunday's event highlighted the real Wetaskiwin.

"It says to me that Wetaskiwin is actually a really inclusive place, regardless of the letter I received," Hanks said. "I know that there is more love in our city than there is hate."

Alexis Forth
Alexis Forth

One of the painters, Alexis Forth, a member of Sexual and Gender Acceptance Wetaskiwin, said it was fun to respond to the letter with love, rather than more negativity.

Forth, 16, said it used to feel a little scary to be bisexual in Wetaskiwin because she saw it as a very conservative town.

But as she grew up she found there was a lot of support and places to express herself.

Forth welcomed city council's efforts to build on that.

"I am extremely happy to hear about that because I love the thought of having a big inclusive town and I just want everyone to feel like they are accepted," Forth said. "It just brings pride in my town."

Jessi Hanks
Jessi Hanks