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Homophobia in Kamloops? Some say it’s as bad as ever

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By Larkin Schmiedl

Read the original story at:

http://www.tru.ca/news/2011/print_plus_stories_2011/homophobia_kam/homophobia/index.html

Last summer, a young man was attacked by a stranger with a pipe in Kamloops’ Riverside Park. He was one of five young gay men attacked in the park this summer, according to a community worker.

At the same time, Brian Husband, president of the local Gay and Lesbian Association (GALA), says he and his partner can walk around Kamloops holding hands and nobody objects. He says in the 40 years he has lived in Kamloops, he’s found it a safe place to be gay.

The issue of how welcoming a place Kamloops is for anyone who isn’t straight came to national attention five years ago when then-city councillor John De Cicco made national headlines for saying homosexuality was “not normal and not natural” while rejecting a proposal for gay pride week.  De Cicco subsequently faced a human rights challenge and a $1,000 fine.  The city paid his legal fees.

The extent to which De Cicco’s comments reflected a widely-held view in the city is still very unclear. Some people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community say it does while others say they feel welcome in Kamloops. To a great extent, any homophobia that does exist in Kamloops is largely unreported and unmeasured.

“I’ve had at least, this summer alone, four young men that were beaten down at Riverside Park by two to three dudes with pipes,” says Kira Gosselin, who works with people living with HIV/AIDS and youth with “alternative lifestyles” as a Community Health Educator at ASK Wellness. She says none of them reported the assaults to police and says “Kamloops is a pretty closed city as far as [homophobia] goes.”

Husband, however, says he approaches various businesses in town in his work with GALA and has “received zero in the way of hostility, rejection, negative comments.”  He and his partner Don Reid both say they do not experience discrimination in Kamloops.

Mike Moss, who grew up in Kamloops and identifies as a straight ally to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, has a very different view.

“Growing up in this town… I know that it’s very openly homophobic,” says Moss, who did his social work degree practicum at the Safe Spaces queer youth support program here. “Just bringing up a [LGBT] issue [in mixed company in Kamloops], it’s still in the ‘shh, don’t talk about that’ sorta phase.”

Kari Bepple, who works as the program supervisor at Safe Spaces, says that three young people she supported lost their jobs last year because of identity issues. Two said it was because of anti-gay discrimination and one transgender youth did not feel safe telling the employer about transitioning and quit working until the transition process was finished.

Bepple said homophobia and transphobia are alive and well within some pockets of Kamloops.  In her capacity as a youth mentor she has heard about youth being verbally and physically assaulted in town.  She said people see homophobia as “the last acceptable form of prejudice… In some ways it’s still okay to call someone a fag.”

Gosselin from ASK Wellness says, “I remember back in the day when they would have the gay dances.  It didn’t take long for those locations to be released. All of a sudden there were dudes in trucks assaulting people and slashing tires.”

Both Gosselin and Moss said they have learned through their work with youth that there is a lot of bullying of LGBT youth at schools in town.

Dale Kinaschuk, a long time GALA board member, said obtaining liquor for GALA dances and liquor licenses from the RCMP everyone has been “absolutely” respectful.  He has lived in Kamloops and done gay activism here for decades.  Although he has never displayed affection openly with a partner in Kamloops, he has never felt unsafe as a gay person here.

The discrepancy in experiences of different LGBT people may be related to factors such as lifestyle, openness, class, race, age or the social circles one moves in.

From 2006 to 2009, police-reported hate crimes against sexual orientation increased 135 per cent in Canada, from 80 incidents to 188.  Statistics Canada notes that many incidents are not reported to police for various reasons which could include mistrust of the police or fear of being outed.

Although not the most common type of hate crime, crimes involving sexual orientation are markedly the most violent.  In 2009 Statistics Canada reported sexual orientation hate crimes were almost twice as likely to be violent as racially-motivated incidents, the second-most violent type of hate crime.

Although statistics about hate crimes are kept in larger cities, according to the RCMP and Statistics Canada, numbers are not kept about hate crimes in Kamloops.

City Councillor Nancy Bepple (second cousin of Kari) says she would like to see a shift in culture around the attitudes toward LGBT people in Kamloops.  She said she’d like to see it become “a place that welcomes diversity.” After she raised the issue of gay rights several times at council meetings, Husband, who is a former city council member, was invited to speak to the city’s diversity advisory committee on behalf of the LGBT community.

The city is looking toward possibly including an LGBT representative on the diversity advisory committee.  The committee is part of the larger Kamloops social plan and its role is, as one of four committees, to advise council on social issues in the city.  Other cities include sexual orientation as a part of their mandates, said Bepple, and she felt the committee, formerly known as the race relations committee, should have a broader mandate toward diversity other than just ethnicity.

Ben Chobater, community development co-ordinator for the city, was unable to say whether an LGBT representative was in fact going to be included.  He said it would be up to whether both GALA and the committee felt it was a good fit.

To officially include a representative, the committee’s terms of reference would need to be modified.  GALA has an open invitation, though, to speak to the committee at any time.

LGBT issues are “not on the radar of most of the councillors,” says Nancy Bepple.  Some may be indifferent, some don’t see the issue as important and some may be against it or not want to deal with it.

“What I’ve done with the issue is just keep chiselling away at it,” she says.

The Sept. 26 diversity advisory committee meeting that Husband and Reid attended was a step, Bepple said.  At the meeting, Husband told council GALA is focused on rebuilding its membership and providing safe spaces for LGBT people.

“I don’t have any political agenda, I don’t have any axes to grind [and] there is nothing our group is boiling about,” he said.

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