Hay Riverites ‘free to be’ at local Pride festival

Hay Riverites ‘free to be’ at local Pride festival
Hay River’s Pride festival has grown exponentially over the past six years, doubling in size this year from last year’s numbers, and featuring out-of-town musical entertainment. Photo: Storm Larocque.

“As adults, to be able to go out in your own community and be accepted for who you are is the best thing ever.”

That’s the positive feeling that motivates Storm Larocque to organize the annual Pride festival every year in her home community of Hay River – an event that has grown over the last six years from cake served by the local union to a full-blown day of activity for kids and adults alike.

This year, families gathered at the library on Saturday afternoon for face painting, cupcakes and to share resources before adults gathered at the pub for an open mic musical event, featuring Northern musicians and, for the first time, burlesque.

Larocque said the expanding community support for the event shows how much Hay River is growing in terms of its acceptance and acknowledgement of LGBTQ+ people in the small NWT community.

“The town has grown so much. The schools are vocally supportive. There’s zero tolerance against homophobia, now, and instead of a teacher coming in to explain, the students themselves aren’t accepting it,” she said. “When I was in high school, you still heard homophobic language all the time. A lot of kids are out now compared to when I was younger.”

Larocque’s own experiences growing up queer in Hay River are part of what told her she needed to do more to bring Pride to the community.

“The reason I started doing this was that my experience as a youth in Hay River was different from my friends,” she said. “Growing up queer, they didn’t know how to interact with me. It wasn’t just a part of my identity, it was like it was all they knew. I know they were trying to be supportive, but it didn’t translate well. I also didn’t have any role models to look up to.”

All grown up, she believes she should now be the adult she needed as a kid. And it isn’t just youth in Hay River who are responding positively.

“I had a couple parents come up to me and mention how exciting it is that something like this is happening because their children had come out to them, and they were unsure how to be supportive,” Larocque said. “So it’s a great way to start the discussion.”

Beyond the celebration, Larocque said there is still a lot of work to be done in the NWT to support the LGBTQ+ population, especially youth, and hopes bringing queer issues to the forefront with events like Pride will build a collective demand for such changes.

“What I’d like to see is enabling the ease of those resources in our community, like safe spaces, GSAs (gay-straight alliances), queer focused mental, physical and sexual health, courses for educators and those who work with youth on queer specific issues,” she said. “There’s a difference between queer and straight/cis youth, especially trans youth, going through the health system. So access might become easier if more people push for that.”

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