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A year in review 2016: How queer-friendly spaces flourished outside of Vancouver and Victoria

Nanaimo and Surrey hold first-ever Pride parades

Nanaimo, BC, welcomed its first Pride parade on June 12, 2016, just one of the examples of increasing LGBT visibility outside of Vancouver and Victoria. Credit: Nathaniel Christopher/Daily Xtra

When Nathaniel Christopher wrote in 1999 about growing up gay in Nanaimo, he recalled being chased down the street by four men in a car.

“Before I could evade them they preceded [sic] to call me derogatory names, and threaten to kill me because they thought that I was a ‘fag’,” he wrote.

The next night, a carful of teenage girls tried to throw eggs at him.

Almost two decades later, there’s a different vibe on Nanaimo’s streets. Christopher was able to attend the first-ever Pride parade in his hometown.

Nanaimo Pride was just one of the examples of LGBT visibility creeping past the typical safe zones of Vancouver and Victoria. 

Surrey, BC’s second-biggest city and one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, also hosted its first Pride parade this year. It wasn’t that long ago that the Surrey school board was notorious for banning gay books. 

In Campbell River, queer people and allies are making northern Vancouver Island a more LGBT-positive place. A gay bar has even opened its doors in Chilliwack, the heart of BC’s Bible Belt.

All of this marks an especially important development for British Columbia, where rising living costs are pricing out many young people from Vancouver and Victoria.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t still challenges. The proprietors of Wilde Oscar’s, the Chilliwack gay bar, still feel they can’t be as open as they want to.

“We have to be careful,” said Gary Peddle, one of the owners. “We have to be sort of straight-acting.”

Regardless, the fact that dozens of LGBT people can gather in a bar to socialize and be themselves without leaving the Fraser Valley is a welcome development indeed.