Prairie Pride: Embracing the ‘hummingbird in our family’

·4 min read

Prairie Pride is a series by Local Journalism Initiative reporter Julia Peterson that celebrates queer life in rural Saskatchewan. Visit thestarphoenix.com/prairiepride to read more

There’s a story I’ve heard about queer people in Saskatchewan.

The way it goes, if you are an LGBTQ2S+ person in this province, your life will be hard and unforgiving. People will try and change you. Your community won’t understand you or, worse, won’t want to. Eventually, you will leave — for the big cities, for greener pastures, for anywhere else.

But that’s not a very good story, is it?

Queer people are our friends, families and neighbours — the familiar face at the Co-op every Saturday, the librarian who helped you find the perfect book, the up-and-coming musician you can’t wait to hear on the radio someday, and the journalist who wrote the column you’re reading right now.

And while working on Prairie Pride, my series celebrating LGBTQ2S+ life in rural Saskatchewan, I’ve seen so many places where queer people are happily living as their full and vibrant selves, where allies offer vocal support, and where queer communities grow and thrive.

But unfortunately, that’s not the full story either.

When I spoke to Donny White, a retired historian who lives with his partner in Maple Creek, Sask., he said something that changed my understanding of what it means to find home as a queer person.

Talking about life in his prairie town, he said: “On the one hand you can say there’s acceptance, but until we’re embraced, we haven’t made it.

“Acceptance runs surface-level. Embracing runs deeper.”

And as Rev. Janae Brownley, a trans woman and United Church minister in La Ronge, Sask., put it:

"If you're just looking for acceptance, that's not much of a goal. Celebration is a goal that has some life to it."

So I wondered, how can we write a better story in Saskatchewan?

And I thought about hummingbirds.

Every spring and summer in Saskatchewan, people put out their hummingbird feeders, hoping to attract the curious, beautiful little birds.

And every year, we get the same reminder — only put real sugar water in your feeder; never try to make nectar with Sweet 'n' Low.

See, hummingbirds need the calories in the sugar to survive. They’ll still gravitate to the Sweet 'n' Low — because it’s sweet and it tastes so much like what they need — but they will drink it and starve, or leave to seek nourishment somewhere else.

In other words, if you want to keep LGBTQ2S+ people in your life, you need to offer more than "not minding" this part of who they are; people, too, can starve on empty sweetness.

But — just like anyone can fill their hummingbird feeder with real sugar, once they know what's needed — LGBTQ2S+ people can be embraced everywhere.

This month I saw people in Saskatchewan flying Pride flags for the first time and building affirming mental health clinics and opening up their religious services and getting rid of gendered barriers and writing queer narratives back into our provincial history, where they have always belonged.

I talked to kids who are growing up feeling “open and free” in all that they are, as one young powwow dancer told me, and parents embracing the heck out of their queer kids in turn.

Robert Doucette, former president of the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan and proud dad to a two-spirit daughter, is one of them — eager to tell the world how much he loves and admires her.

“I call her my little hummingbird, because she is always busy, curious and so loving,” he said. I’m sure we all have a hummingbird in our family.”

In small cities and towns and First Nations and acreages, I’ve met people sharing the brightness and humour and persistence and joy of queer experiences — so many, in fact, that I couldn’t possibly end Prairie Pride this week, as I had planned to back in May.

Instead, I’m delighted to say that this series will continue for as long as I remain with the StarPhoenix as Local Journalism Initiative reporter.

As I start work on the next part of Prairie Pride, I feel proud and humbled and iridescently joyful to be queer — and to be a queer journalist — in Saskatchewan.

There are so many more stories to tell.

Julia Peterson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix

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