3 min

Staking a claim on Salt Spring

Celebrating Pride off the beaten path

This island comes into its own in the autumn months. It gets lighter by about 3,000 people, and finding a parking spot is no longer tantamount to winning the lottery.

The folks in the local service industry finally snap with the occasional snarky remark as their perma-grins begin to thaw. We’re used to the seasonal rhythm of post-tourist season recovery.

With visiting family and friends, we walk the hills together and travel the back-road country lanes to visit neighbours. We stop into heritage farms to participate in the annual apple pressing. We drink in these glorious last days of sun as we haul in the bounty of our crops.

Standing humbly beside the island institution of the 110th annual Fall Fair and the rollaway success of the fifth annual Apple Festival, this year also saw the second-ever Gay and Lesbian Pride Festival.

Hosted by the Gays and Lesbians of Salt Spring Island (GLOSSI), this year’s theme, “Way, Way Out,” was chosen to push open the rural barn door a bit wider.

GLOSSI president David Rumsey was quoted in the local paper saying the “theme emphasized both the challenges and the opportunities of living in a relatively small community.”

Living some distance from the urban melting pot, most small-town queers (many of whom still detest the word queer) have chosen a quieter lifestyle. Whether single or in partnership, we’re homos staking our claim in communities traditionally unwelcoming or politely dismissive of our same-sex loves.

Whether nestled up to a crackling fire with a mug of something hot while listening to a late-night CBC radio special, or watching the wind rush through the rainforest in anticipation of the winter storms ahead, the country air makes armchair philosophers of us all. However difficult or however sublime, our way-out-of-the-way lives richly touch our souls.

It takes time to relax and shed the thick skins of our gay urbanized values and stiletto-sharpened attitudes. After the first few years of isolation, though, we eventually relinquish some of our newfound hermit-like behavior and set down our gripping how-to books on the hottest new knitting techniques or the 1,001 ways to maximize our garden plots.

Thanks to persistent but gentle nagging by our community leaders–including Rumsey, artist Caffyn Kelley, local business owners Tim and John, Frog Hollow B&B owners Bruce and Scott, and several dedicated others–the rest of us dust off our garden-dirty knees and gravitate once again to our homo-kin.

This fall we proved that last year’s inaugural Pride festival was not a one hit wonder. Starting with a Friday night double-header of girl-on-girl and high camp boy films (Fingersmith and Sordid Lives), the weekend shifted into gear with an island-wide mystery drive called the “Gaymazing Race.”

Approximately 25 teams followed what were said to be preposterous clues in order to land at the doors of various queer-owned businesses. Apparently the race winners won a useful prize or two.

Saturday night, the festival’s highpoint, brought over 200 people together at Artspring to watch a powerful reading of The Laramie Project. The local drama teacher turned a mostly mixed cast of amateur and local regulars into a remarkably cohesive ensemble.

The audience included local high school students, parents, educators and a strong showing from our local gay community.

Many others, by their own admissions, didn’t have the stomach to face the story of Matthew Shepard’s small-town Wyoming murder. A few tossed off their decision to stay home as “not wanting to be depressed.”

I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to face the loneliness and threat of violence a small-town mentality can brew up at a moment’s notice. After the performance, one well-known islander shared a story of having her life threatened by several young ruffians outside her bedroom window. Because she’s a ballsy, in-your-face dyke, the police never took her seriously. I hope today the story would be different.

To feel safe in our own homes, whether in the city or in the country, is a necessity we all must work towards.

For those of you who haven’t seen The Laramie Project yet–go. The real-life story of a young man’s small-town life, his torture and eventual death is ultimately a story of redemption and an experience of community catharsis.

It is mythic in scope; competing passions of love and hate collide, as one man’s martyrdom affected how Americans viewed their relationship to homosexuality.

It was a rare and wonderful event to be shared as a community. Whether gay or straight, the healing that occurs among the actors and audience is foundational to addressing any town’s oppression of overt and systemic homophobia.

I am proud to live in a small community that takes large risks. I am very proud that we took a moment to consider Aaron Webster’s murder and to contemplate the injustice in our own court system.

Instead of standing in a puddle of tears, we then split the seams of our pants at a local hangout. DJ Scott spun out our queer anthems until we were dizzy. We sweated alongside a crew of young high school students, some out, several questioning and many straight, bumping and grinding to Gloria Gaynor.

The next day, sitting beside the ocean at the Pride Country Potluck Picnic, many of us agreed: sometimes living way, way out feels like home.