Landmark 18: the Prince George Gay community

Artists: Garth Toovey, Dom Toovey

Word: Educate

UNBC had an active gay presence from very early on; out lesbian professors, a fledgling gay club started in 1990 and a community newsletter started in 2004. The gay club met monthly with only a few members, supported by faculty allies, and they had to find space very month to hold its meetings. This small, almost secret, group eventually grew to a strong political presence that fought for, and won, a Pride Centre with a three day sit-in. Successfully arguing that a pride centre was an essential service, they served over 250 people in their first two months of operations.  The Centre provided a refuge and sponsored events such as “Gender is a Drag” which were sell out popular fundraisers. For a long time the Centre had an artistic rendition of a giant vagina – used as a backdrop for the Vagina Monologues - in the window of the centre which overlooked the bus loop. That is, until administration noticed and politely asked for it to be hung elsewhere.

The connections between UNBC’s gay community and the PG gay community were tight. GALA (Gay and Lesbian Association of Northern BC) dances welcomed students. UNBC students marched in the annual Pride Parade. The drag community in particular was a strong supporter of students.  Too many students were fearful of coming out, fearful of losing their parents and siblings. The messages of loathing that society directs at homosexuality puts those struggling to come to terms with their sexual orientation in a self-policed prison more cruel than anything the society can mandate. The drag community, the most out of out, proudly and flamboyantly put the lie to homophobia and offered a healthy family model to many young people as they adjusted to life in the “big city” and came to terms with who they wanted to be in the world.   Further, the Court in Prince George also served as a force to educate its own community members in its own history and the many positive and brave models that had gone before, to make this space and place possible. From gay as the name and marker of outsider to the diverse and vibrant challenge to, not just sexual orientation, but gender, as a way to know who you are, to create and find yourself. A path to be able to contribute fully to the world as who you are, as birth, education, choice, and chance made you. Dom and Garth are married and well respected, and Garth a decades long leader in the community, between them are brilliant embodiments of the everyday courage needed to survive and thrive and be prepared to educate others.

The art piece captures the pride in the history of the community and its unasked for but always necessary role in education. It has, most prominently, the Yellow Brick Road, symbolizing the beloved Dorothy / Judy Garland of gay folk lore as well as a promised road to financial well -  that education offers and the way to home.  The rainbow, the culturally iconic representation of the gay community, brightly visible and colourfully portraying diversity, dissects the apple. The bright red apple is a representation of knowledge descending from the bravery of Eve in revolting against God itself to acquire knowledge, a bravery gay people have to seek and find daily to survive in a hostile world. 

On the left hand side, the hand of sinister wisdom is an apple tree. The word educate springs from an apple tree and reaches to join the rainbow. Imposed on these – somewhere over the rainbow - are the “alphabet soup” of gender and sexual identities illustrating the complexity of how people are pushing boundaries of binary restrictions. The word educate as a verb, embodied.  Trans people, remaking themselves in their own image, butch and femme, leathermen, drag queens and kings are striding across the yellow brick road bringing knowledge into an everyday world of the human body, educating and changing the world through the simple act of living true to their self.

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