June is internationally recognized as Pride Month and is the time to celebrate the LGBTQIA2S+ community throughout the South Okanagan-Similkameen.
Heather Adamson, Communications Director for the South Okanagan Similkameen Pride Society, said that while many people think of Pride Month as "just a big party," it is still considered a protest.
"It's about making ourselves seen and visible in the community to remind people that we are here and that we are everywhere and everyone," she said.
"Our human rights were historically extremely discriminated against. And that it's only very recently in this country's history that we have legislative protection against our lives, against our bodies and our livelihood."
"We need to keep that in the forefront of the general public's consciousness to remind them that the human rights that are offered to our community today are very, very new in terms of the history of Canada."
Adamson said that they are grateful to get the opportunity to celebrate as well.
"We're so lucky that we do have the ability to do that and celebrate who we are and have wonderful events that bring our community together and that also, our allies come and stand shoulder to shoulder with us," she added.
"We're so grateful to the community members who are so supportive. We've had amazing responses from the municipalities across the region to be acknowledging pride month. We've got great partnerships with the First Nation communities as well, who are hosting pride events right on reserve."
The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen sent out a press release on Wednesday, noting they had invited Melisa Edgerly, Board President of the SOS Pride Society, to present to the RDOS Board of Directors.
On June 15, Edgerly will offer guidance on fostering inclusivity through language during the RDOS Corporate Services Committee.
“By showing support to 2SLGBTQIA+ members, the RDOS is helping create an inclusive and welcoming community,” RDOS Chair Mark Pendergraft said in the press release. “Pride Month is also a reminder that all RDOS facilities, parks, and trails are safe spaces for all to use and enjoy.”
Alongside that, Adamson said there was so much excitement in seeing the new Two Spirit crosswalk that was just painted outside Queen's Park Elementary in Penticton last week.
"We were so proud of that school and those students for leading that project," she said. "There has been some negative response online which we were completely expecting."
Messages on social media raised enough attention that the City of Penticton issued a statement alongside Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel and School District #67 Chair James Palanio condemning bullying and intolerance on the new rainbow crosswalk.
Later, skid marks damaged the new paintwork.
"There has been some damage to it already, which again we're not surprised about, it just makes us sad. But we know that that's a very small percentage, and we know and we feel in our hearts anyway, and we hope that the majority of our fellow community members welcome us," Adamson said.
Their organization has noticed a rise in hate lately.
"It's a tough time right now. History definitely repeats itself, whenever a marginalized group of folks achieves some equity and some equality in terms of legal rights and protection, those people who never wanted to see that happen, get really upset," Adamson said.
"Our rights don't take away anybody else's. But obviously, there's a certain percentage of the population that feels that way. It's really unfortunate and it's just something that we are up against right now."
"The generalized messaging for everyone is that it's just expected that you're heterosexual and that you're cisgender and anything other than that is other. And that's why it's called coming out, you still have to say that you're something different than that."
During this month, the SOS Pride Society encourages the public to show support for Pride Month by hanging a Pride flag, making a donation to a local 2SLGBTQIA+ organization or youth group, or volunteering your time.
In Edgerly's hand in the photo, they are holding the Intersex-Inclusive Pride flag and the Gay Pride/Rainbow flag.
According to SOS Pride, the six-stripe Gay Pride Flag is derived from the original Pride flag design created by Gilbert Baker. The colours have their own separate meanings and this flag is meant to represent the entire Pride community, in addition to being the main flag for gay men.
The Intersex-Inclusive Pride flag was created in 2021 by Valentino Vecchietti, and was an expansion on the progress flag, which was made to include both genderqueer and non-binary, to also be more inclusive of intersex people.
Vecchietti said the flag represents natural diversity in sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics.
More information about the different flags can be found in the SOS Pride flag gallery here.
Adamson said their website is full of learning tools and they're always open to help people learn.
"We're always willing to answer questions so that we can educate the community about who we are and promote that idea of diversity and inclusion."
SOS Pride is a non-profit organization that connects communities across the 2SLGBTQIA+ gender spectrum to provide support, awareness, education and social events.
During Pride month, the group is hosting a number of inclusive community events.
There will also be support for the Two Spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities at the Between the Lakes Pow Wow in Penticton.
For further information about Pride Month, including support and resources and upcoming events, please visit the South Okanagan Similkameen Pride Society website at SOS Pride website here.