Queering it up in West Central Sask!

A poster for the first community QSA meetings in West Central Sask.

Sheldon Cannon

PRIDE MONTH is upon us!! Fitting for the occasion, the West Central Queer-Straight Alliance officially kicked off this week, aiming to support the local queer community and promote inclusivity in our corner of rural Saskatchewan. As in every community, there has always been queerness afoot in Kindersley, Sk. and surrounding area, however, there haven’t been any queer and trans centred resources or programs available to the community within about 200 kilometres (outside of high school GSAs and a local PFLAG contact).

Growing up gay in the community myself, I experienced myself how difficult it was not seeing anything around me in terms of visibility and community supports, or people to talk to about it. While there was support available in the high school, I was too scared to access it at the time, and outside the school system there really was nowhere to turn to. A common expectation in these situations is that people who are questioning their identity wait to move to a city before they have a chance to “figure out” who they are, but not everyone has that opportunity. Furthermore, people shouldn’t have to abandon their home community just to be who they are as individuals–this shouldn’t be a privilege restricted to urban locales.

The project started with me reaching out to Kyle Fairall, a PLLC Mentor who started up QUEERFLEX, a queer gym in Edmonton. They gave me some great advice about community organizing projects, and things to consider like being responsive to community needs and succession planning for when I do have to move back to Edmonton in the fall for school. I then got in touch with the Vice Principal at my high school who used to run the school’s GSA. She referred me to the school counsellor, Jacquie Pollard who now facilitates the school’s GSA, and we got to work getting in touch with people around the community and LGBTQ+ resources in other communities to get an idea of how we would go about starting up and running this thing.

Realizing we’d need to have liability and a non-profit organization status set up to run such a group, we reached out to the West Central Crisis Centre to see if the project could be situated within their organization, as suggested by the Rainbow Tea group in Humboldt, Sask. The Crisis Centre took it on as their program, lead and facilitated by myself and other on the Working Group, a committee of myself, the school counsellor, a contact in the Crisis Centre and community member Stephen Neiszner. The Crisis Centre also offered their new Day Treatment Centre to use free of charge for meetings, and opened the door to potential grant funding for the program in the future. With their support, we were able to host our first meeting on June 18th!

Nervewracked but excited, I arrived to the Centre to set up. As we were setting up, the front door buzzer was ringing off the hook… I didn’t know what turnout to expect, perhaps one or two, but when we came out of the back room all the chairs were full and people were overflowing into the lobby. With a bit of improvisation, we ended up accommodating all 16 people in attendance (including us 4 from the working group). Much more than expected for a niche group within a small town!

We had folks in attendance across a wide range of ages and many there to support and learn more about the initiative, which was fantastic. Two hours of discussion covered things from our group norms, things we’d like to do as a group to build friendly connections, what kind of learning and support we’d like, and an introduction to LGBTQ+ 101, using the popular Genderbread Person diagram to explain the basics concepts of identity, attraction, anatomical sex, and expression and how those all interact.

As every teacher says, I am not an artist!

While I experienced some homophobic violence myself in the past, I have been thoroughly impressed by the reception of the QSA program in Kindersley thus far. I was able to hang posters in nearly every business and community space I visited, Kindersley Composite School and Elizabeth Middle School both proudly advertised the group, and the local media has picked up our story in the Clarion newspaper, the Kindersley Social webpage, and on the radio and online soon with Golden West Broadcasting. Furthermore, St. Paul’s United Church has been highly supportive of the program, with the minister of the church Reverend Piotr Strzelecki attending the meeting himself and encouraging the congregation’s support. This widespread community support has been very encouraging and means a lot to me, seeing my home community stand behind me in getting this program up and running.

I can’t wait to see what comes of this project, and direction it takes as it continues to grow. I believe in the power of hope, and a community coming together to support their neighbours, no matter how alike or different they may be. The communities of West Central Saskatchewan deserve a place to be themselves and find the support they need, and I believe we are off to a fantastic start 🙂

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