While many young gays can’t wait to leave the suburbs for queerer neighbourhoods closer to the city, John Kuipers has decided to stand his ground in his community.
Part of Kuipers’s fight started in 2008 when, as president of the Pride society at the University of the Fraser Valley, he co-organized a social-justice rally in Abbotsford, the heart of BC’s Bible Belt, after the school district chose not to offer the Social Justice 12 course in local classrooms.
“It was a real cornerstone to really find out who was an ally and who wasn’t,” he says of their initial effort. “It was the start of people saying that we shouldn’t have to deal with [homophobia] in the Valley. It was a fight, but it was one that we won.”
For nearly six years, Kuipers has also coordinated the Fraser Valley Youth Society (FVYS), which formed in 2006 after Youthquest stopped funding gay youth drop-ins in Abbotsford.
Over the years, FVYS has grown from being a drop-in to also hosting events and spreading awareness about and advocating for queer youth and issues.
This past spring, Kuipers helped lead a team of youth volunteers who organized the first-ever Fraser Valley annual Pride March.
According to Kuipers, while is there still much more to be done, change is coming. More local organizations and businesses are willing to lend their support publicly, he notes.
“It communicates something to the youth,” the 28-year-old says. “There are other people out there that say it’s okay to be gay, that you don’t have to repress that part of who you are and get the hell out of here as soon as you can and go to Vancouver.”
For now, his focus is on training and empowering the next generation of activists to take over and keep up the fight.
“My philosophy, both professionally and personally, is that if you’re going to take on a task, you need to take it from start to finish and do the best job you can,” he says.
“There’s work to be done."