By Mo Cranker on January 13, 2017.
After its biggest year yet, Medicine Hat Pride is hoping 2017 can be another big step forward for the LGBTQ community.
Over the past six years, the group has held events each year in an attempt to start an open dialogue about the LGBTQ community with residents of Medicine Hat and surrounding area. They are also working on new initiatives such as a clothing swap and more safe spaces for the LGBTQ community to use when needed.
This past year’s Pride festival was bigger, and reached more people than the prior four years combined, says treasurer Elizabeth Jelinek, and the group is shooting for bigger and better this year â€” holding the city’s first ever Pride Week in September.
“We’ve grown over the years and have continued to build on positive support since we began operating six years ago,” she said. “This year we’re going for a Pride Week, with events all throughout it promoting acceptance and awareness of our community â€” we want to continue to reach as many people as we can.”
Vice-chair Caelan Walton began his transition from a female to male body recently and identifies as transmasculine androgynous, which means he will have a more masculine body, but considers himself neither female nor male. He says a lot has changed since he came to Medicine Hat in 2013.
“When I came here I experienced a lot of bullying because I began exploring my gender and sexuality,” he said. “The bullying continued for a long time, and I had to do a lot of growing,”
The bullying went so far as one student trying to light him on fire with spray-on deodorant, which resulted in second-degree burns. Walton says things have changed greatly since then.
“Since then, I have noticed a lot of growth in the community â€” I love the changes I’m seeing in Medicine Hat,” he said.
Both Walton and Jelinek agree that educating people, especially the youth, is the best way to end any hate people may feel towards the LGBTQ community.
“We’re trying to partner with McMan, schools and some teachers to get our information to the five- to eight-year-old range,” said Jelinek. “If we can educate the kids at a young age, we can eliminate the prejudice we will have to fight later in life.”
In a perfect world, the two would like to see complete acceptance from the Medicine Hat community toward the LGBTQ community.
“We preach tolerance to people of all factions of society, whether it be race, religion or sexual â€” but we should be preaching acceptance, because they’re two very different things,” said Walton “We would like to be accepted but we’re just asking to be tolerated by the community, but when you think about it, really, no one exists to just be tolerated, we want people to accept us.”
Part of the group’s growth last year can be attributed to the city awarding them the FCSS grant.
“Last year council gave us a grant and we put it to good use,” said Jelinek. “We’re looking forward to having bigger numbers than last year and continuing to grow.”
For more information on the group and their events, go to their Facebook page under, ‘Medicine Hat Pride.’
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