Acceptance and understanding of people with various sexual orientations and gender identities was celebrated in Thompson June 25 during Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak’s (MKO) Diversity Is Our Strength Celebrating Pride Event.
Feeling like they weren’t or might not be accepted was a common theme among speakers at the event, some of whom said it was difficult for them to disclose who they really were because of fear their families, friends or coworkers would not be understanding.
“It just still seems like a few years ago that I wasn’t comfortable, 100 per cent comfortable in my own skin but today I can be proud to identify as an Indigenous two-spirited woman,” said Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) liaison unit two-spirited and gender diverse co-ordinator Heidi Spence. “Being gay bi or lesbian just wasn’t something I could wrap my head around when I was younger because of all the stereotypes and negative societal attitudes that there were. It just wasn’t OK when I was younger so I did really struggle with that. I didn’t have a lot of the supports that you see now and I know being in this role is something that I’m really happy and I’m really passionate about because I want to be able to help and direct a person that is maybe a little confused or needs a bit of direction when they’re going on this journey because it can be scary if you do it by yourself.”
Acelynn Doran-Campbell, who spoke to provide a youth perspective, said coming out was something that occurred in stages over time for her, as she learned to accept her own sexuality.
“It was all very confusing through middle school,” she recalled. “Through seventh and ninth grade I began to identify myself to my closest friends as bisexual or pansexual but around this time I also began to question my sexuality again and when I was 14 I came out again to my closest friends as a lesbian woman and that’s the label I’m comfortable calling myself today. I didn’t come out to my mom until two years ago when she kind of found out on her own and I came out to my grandparents around that time as well. I feel like being out has been a healing experience for me. I feel like I’m not hiding a large part of myself anymore.”
Joshua Steven said it is important that LGBTQIA2S people can express themselves not only to their families and friends but also in their workplaces.
“It’s nice to finally feel like I can be myself in a professional setting,” said Steven. “I still get my job done but at the end of the day I can be who I am. In several situations prior, I had not been taken seriously or been chastised for being a two-spirit individual. As the world evolves I think so should we. Tolerance and acceptance are paramount in any environment especially in your workforce and your home life.”
His mother Shyanna Lynxleg, speaking as the parent of an LGBTQIA2S child, said the best advice was to love them for who they are.
“Everywhere proud parents are supporting their lesbian, gay bisexual or transgender child,” she said. “My son is a gay man. I say that with love and acceptance in the exact same way I love and support his brother and sister.”
Despite that, she recalls the fear in his eyes when he revealed his sexuality to her, even though she already suspected and accepted it.
Doran-Campbell said part of the reason she feared coming out was because people had said being a lesbian was not right, both in the eyes of the Christian church and in the eyes of some Indigenous people.
“I remember hearing a quote – ‘You never forget what people say before you come out,’ – and I believe that to be the truth so I ask everyone to please speak with respect regarding the community because you never know who may identify themselves with it. LGBT Indigenous people, two-spirited people and trans Indigenous people have always existed and we will continue to exist and it is not wrong, it’s beautiful
Not all Christian denominations view being other than a heterosexual man or woman as a sin, said Rev. Agnes Spence of the United Church of Canda.
“Jesus knew no boundaries, reaching out to all people, welcoming and honouring all,” she said.
Acceptance and love is key to avoiding bad outcomes for LGBT people.
“When teens come out … they continue to be kicked out of homes as well as other institutions,” said Spence. “A disproportionate number attempt or die by suicide. Many still live in closets of shame or fear.This must stop. No child should ever live in fear because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”