The anticipated financial benefits of hosting Pride events may not be enough to persuade some British Columbian communities to unfurl the rainbow flag anytime soon.
An online poll conducted by the Penticton Herald suggests that area residents are divided on whether the South Okanagan community should host a Pride parade or festival, despite the “huge economic boost” of WorldPride to Toronto.
As of July 1, more than a quarter of respondents (27.3 percent) said, “No, it’s not the image we need for Penticton.”
Another 16 percent said Penticton already has “enough special events.”
But nearly half (48.5 percent) of respondents said, “Definitely, it would be an economic driver/let’s put an end to bullying and negative stereotypes.”
Another 8.1 percent said, “I won’t support it but if someone wants to do it, I’m cool with that.”
“I think for the most part in Penticton it seems like a non-issue,” says South Okanagan Gay and Lesbian Association (SOGALA) board member David Johnson. “Almost half said it would be fine; a small percentage said it’s not the image they want, which is what you’ll find in a lot of towns.”
He speculates that respondents who rejected the idea don’t make their living in the tourism industry. “I think that perhaps some of them are grumpy old men who are retired and don’t have to worry about these events,” he says. “Penticton lives on tourism. We have two months to survive in this town — July and August. A lot of businesses have to make it now in these two months when visitors come in.”
Johnson says SOGALA has no plans to host a Pride festival or parade but is working to increase gay visibility in the wider community. “There are lots of gay people here, but not a lot of people are involved with SOGALA,” he says. “I think if we put ourselves out there, people might be like, ‘Oh, they exist’ and show interest.”
He notes that SOGALA and the local PFLAG chapter for parents and friends of lesbians and gays have a presence at community events such as the Penticton Farmers’ Market and the Peach Festival parade. “We do this to say, ‘Yes, we are here,’ and a lot of folks in SOGALA are more than willing to man the booth,” he adds.
With a population of just under 37,000 people, Penticton’s gay community tends to be lower-key than its neighbours in larger communities such as Kelowna, which will hold the the Okanagan Pride Festival again this year, from Aug 9 to 16.
“People are a little bit cautious about saying, ‘Oh yeah, we are having a gay dance,’” Johnson says. “The first gay dance I went to here was at the yacht club at the end of a dark, long road, completely away from town so people could come and go without being seen, and I think that was one of the reasons it was chosen.”
Times are changing, though. In May, a gay dance was held in one of the biggest hotel ballrooms in Penticton. People walked through the lobby and rubbed “shoulders with people they may know,” Johnson says. “People might be concerned about being so out, but we had a great turnout, for us. Over 80 people, and also nobody really used the backdoor this time.”
He notes that SOGALA struggles to attract many younger members of the community. “There are a lot of young gay people in town, but one of the problems for a social club — which is basically what we are — is young people are a little more easy, even in Penticton, with being gay and out, and they don’t need, necessarily, the contact we, the older people, needed when we grew up,” he says.
When SOGALA posted a link to the Penticton Herald poll on its Facebook page, the results suddenly shifted in favour of a Pride festival, with 61.5 percent of respondents now selecting “Definitely, it would be an economic driver/let’s put an end to bullying and negative stereotypes.”