Central Okanagan Pride Milestones

Written on 06/08/2021
Jayme Tucker

Last week we went over a brief history of Pride; how it started in New York in 1969, and how it came to the Okanagan.

In 1997, one year after the first Pride March took place in Kelowna, British Columbia, then-mayor Walter Gray refused to sign a proclamation supporting Pride Day. His reason was that the word 'pride' should not be included. In response, the still-forming Okanagan Rainbow Coalition filed a formal complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

In 2000, the tribunal found that Gray was in violation of the Human Rights Code and had discriminated against lesbians and gays in the Okanagan with his remarks. In a press clipping regarding the ruling, deputy commissioner Harinder Mahil said, "This decision is important in that it says that our publicly elected officials can not let their personal views exclude and marginalize people on the basis of their sexual orientation."

Gray would later endorse the Pride celebrations in 2012, though some suggested it was due to the increased corporate presence at the events.

The Okanagan Rainbow Coalition officially formed in 2004, adopting a pink Ogopogo with an earring as their mascot. The Kelowna Museum Facebook page posted regarding the ORC's legacy in Kelowna, saying that "Not everyone liked what the group stood for – some ORC events were threatened with bomb scares."

Kelowna grew immensely in between the nascent days of the newly formed ORC (which became the Kelowna Pride Society). From the bomb scares in 2004 to the first mayoral proclamation in 2006 by the new mayor, Sharon Sheperd, in 2006, pride celebrations continued to grow. 

In 2015, Kelowna held its first Trans March. The mayor at the time, Colin Basran, accepted the position as Pride Parade Grand Marshall. The march was separate from the main pride events to highlight the struggles and continued fight for trans rights in Canada and beyond. Approximately 200 people attended that first march.

Basran was a big supporter of queer celebrations and rights in Kelowna. After being branded 'Mayor Sugarplum' in online comments after he defended the decision to paint a downtown rainbow crosswalk, Basran embraced the moniker and created the Sugarplum Ball in July 2016. Attendants were encouraged to go all-out with their outfits, and the mayor dressed in drag for the event. 

Kelowna's Pride history has had some ups and downs, but there has always been that indomitable spirit to bring Pride into the valley.

Next week, we'll go over some Pride etiquette! Dos and don'ts for drag events, the parade, and tips for allies to support your loved ones at Pride!

Jayme D. Tucker is a journalist, writer, and performer settled on unceded Syilx territory. They're queer, tall, and tired of answering all the same token questions when they come out; So they're answering those questions and more for thehub.LGBT Kelowna. They've written for Daily Hive Calgary, won a scholarship for fiction writing with Eat North, and is the founder of The Queer Agenda, a non-profit social group focused on sober friendly, all-ages networking for LGBTQ2IA+ individuals (currently on COVID hiatus).

(Image Credit: Twitter/Global Okanagan)