Though I was born in Eire – Southern Ireland – I consider myself from Prince George BC, a small city in Northern BC, Canada. Outsiders think we are a redneck, close-minded, sexist, hard drinking mining and forestry-based community. One of those places you wouldn’t be caught dead in, and if you were gay and caught here, you might think you would be. But my lovely wife and I (one of the 8 BC couples in the same sex court battle here in Canada) have learned that homophobia can be found everywhere, including the gay enclaves of Vancouver – Aaron Webster’s death by gay bashing in Stanley Park a testament to the fact we are never really safe anywhere. But we have learned the flip side too, that we can find in unexpected places a space that rises above mere tolerance. We have an openly gay councilor regularly reelected to council because he is damn good, and our first openly gay school board trustee. And we have a diverse and vibrant gay community that, because it is small, has learned to avoid the cliques and divisiveness of the larger gay communities we visit. We are part of and contribute to our larger community in regular and visible ways, from the union movement to business, to education circles. We are visible and strong and respected in spite of our outlaw status.
For example, last night was the third annual Snowflake Ball and Hero awards, held in the Ballroom of one of the two downtown hotels. In the room were young and old, gay and straight, professional and activist, married and single, and a multiplicity of ethnicities. From long black velvet ball gowns and full on drag to t-shirts and jeans, the room was full of laughter and good food and fun. This is a fundraiser for Pride which is celebrated annually and has been for 13 years. One of the Hero Awards this year goes to our mayor, who was elected and took office in January 2009 and was the first mayor to walk in our Gay Pride march. He was the first mayor to do so in 13 years – in fact, our previous mayor had resisted and never was in town to sign the annual proclamation of Pride week. Mayor Dan, as the street people call him, opened his acceptance by saying, “I am so glad I came out tonight” and stressed that his presence at the march was such a small and natural thing in his eyes. It would have been very easy for him to have arranged to be out of town like the last mayor. Heck, we wouldn’t have expected him so we wouldn’t have missed him. And, in fact, he was out of town but came back deliberately to participate and he marched with the Drag Kings and Queens.
Don’t get me wrong; even paradise had its serpents, yes? We have our problems, the clash of strong opinions and personalities generated by passionate convictions rise and fall like the tides. Sickness and break ups and job loss affect us too. Resignations from the boards of our local gay organizations on principles and the annual threat that Pride won’t go forward because of lack of volunteers are part of our annual social calendar it seems. But, the face of the gay experience is shifting. Young couples plan showers and wedding celebrations. The hole-in-the-corner after-dark dances in damp basements or alcohol fueled parties as the only social outlet are a thing of the past now. This small event, in a small town that most gays would run from, is a lesson in humanity and pride. Prince George, where I have landed after a lifetime of traveling and searching is a proud and attractive community in my eyes. I looked around the room last night and knew, in this moment, I was happy. My chosen family, my community, are here. I belong. I have found home.