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Coming out ‘naturally’ at Jasper Pride

Rockies celebration is small 'but has a lot of options,' says first-time attendee

First-time attendee Monica Bouius enjoyed the snow and the Saturday-night drag show and party at the third annual Jasper Pride, held April 12 to 14. Credit: Keph Senett
“When it started in 2010, it was two handfuls of people,” Jasper Pride’s Jörg Michel says. “OUT Jasper organized the party and that was it. It was really small and purely local. Ever since then it has grown, step by step.”

Now in its third year and rescheduled to April to avoid a conflict with Whistler’s gay ski week in February, Jasper Pride encourages queers to “come out naturally” for a weekend of skiing, snowboarding, sharing and socializing in the Alberta Rockies.

OUT Jasper is the town’s queer peer and advocacy group and is coordinated by Mychol Ormandy, who stands well over six feet tall in heels. I meet Ormandy, who moonlights as the Jasper Pride Weekend chair, at the opening mixer.

“Welcome to our mountain town,” he says, as the park’s mascot, Jasper the Bear (a character originally imagined by Winnipeg-born illustrator Jim Simpkins for Maclean’s magazine in 1948), looks over his shoulder.

Pride Weekend’s new April 12 to 14 time slot coincides with the Aloha Cup, a ski day that includes a race down Marmot Basin. With the highest base elevation in Canada (at 1,700 metres) and seven lifts accessing runs on four mountain faces, skiers and snowboarders love Marmot, but non-sporty types find plenty of less snowy activities to enjoy at Jasper Pride, too.

“We’re comfort lesbians,” says Edmonton Pride director Amanda Barrett, relaxing with her fiancée at the après ski hosted at the Fairmont Lodge. “We didn’t ski; we found a place that makes great fudge.”

Saturday night’s dinner and movie event features five short films selected by Calgary’s Fairy Tales film festival. “It’s so important we support inclusive, rural communities,” says operations director Kari McQueen. “Nothing is better than sharing the experience of seeing our stories on the big screen, of not feeling invisible and being reminded that we all count, no matter where we live or who we love.”

The program, which is alternately celebratory and heartbreaking, was selected to represent a variety of queer perspectives, with a commitment to orientation, gender and age diversity that mirrors the Pride events as a whole.

“Jasper Pride is smaller [than Edmonton Pride], but it has a lot of options,” says Lisa Martin, striker for premier league women’s soccer team the Edmonton Drillers and first-time Jasper Pride attendee.

Martin travelled to Jasper with about 20 friends — mostly soccer players — including her girlfriend, Drillers mid-fielder Vanessa Bulmer.

“It’s crazy how much support this city has!” Bulmer says. “So many restaurants were advertising it [Pride weekend]. And this film event is totally different from what you might get elsewhere.”

No Pride would be complete without standard events like a huge Saturday-night drag show and party — “the best party all year,” according to Marmot Basin’s Monica Bouius, also a first-time attendee.

Attendees can choose from not one, but two pancake breakfast events on Sunday morning. I go to the second, at a fashion show produced by the Jasper Junior/Senior High School gay-straight alliance (GSA). After the kids walk the runway, I chat with the group’s co-presidents, 14-year-old Ashton Hefner and 17-year-old Paige Furlotte, to discuss the newly formed organization.

“I came out in the summer,” Hefner says, adding that he was the first (and only) person to be out as gay in his school. “I was so nervous about what people would say, what would happen to me. GSA has helped me. In the beginning I was more quiet, in the corner, like, ‘Don’t look at me, I’m invisible.’ Now, I’m rocking it! I have more pride because I know that if people bully me, I have GSA.”

Originally housed at the school itself, the GSA moved its operations to OUT Jasper’s office and under Ormandy’s wing when the school counsellor went on maternity leave.

“The whole point of GSA was to create a safe environment,” Furlotte says, explaining that although she is straight, she has also been bullied. “That was the thing — to have people to talk to that understand, with no judgments. Now we’re like family. I feel like I have two families.”

This year’s Pride Weekend theme, Fairy Tales and Legends, is largely a nod to the coming-out process, Michel says. “It is a struggle. Fairy tales are about the struggles between good and bad, and in the end the good always wins.”

Next year’s Jasper Pride Weekend is scheduled to take place April 11 to 14, 2014.

Keph Senett’s accommodations were provided by Marmot Park Lodge; travel arrangements were made by Tourism Jasper.