British Columbia

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran to dress in drag for Pride

The mayor of Kelowna, Colin Basran, says he will dress in drag for the upcoming Sugarplum Ball, an event inspired by backlash to the city's installation of rainbow crosswalks.

Colin 'Sugarplum' Basran inspired by backlash over rainbow crosswalk

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran will dress in drag for the Sugarplum Ball on July 9. (Colin Basran/Facebook)

Just call him Mayor Sugarplum.

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran says he will dress in drag for an upcoming event after being inspired by residents who complained about recently installed rainbow crosswalks.

Basran will host the Sugarplum Ball at Kelowna's Rotary Centre for the Arts on July 9. He says the idea for the ball came in a roundabout way.

Mayor's plan inspired by backlash to downtown rainbow crosswalk (okanaganpride/Twitter)

When the city painted rainbow crosswalks at one intersection last summer, resident Nancy Enns petitioned city council to restore the intersection to its usual black-and-white.

When Basran and his council declined, online commentators started referring to him as "Mayor Sugarplum."

It's a moniker he's now embraced.

"I guess they figured that would be insulting to me, but I had a laugh about it, and I started telling people about it, and then the [Okanagan] Pride Society heard about it and we thought what a great opportunity. Let's have some fun with this."

Mayor called 'gross' and 'embarrassing'

Online reaction to the mayor's Sugarplum alter-ego has been overwhelmingly positive.  But intolerance remains — at least in some quarters.

One Facebook user called the mayor's decision to dress in drag "gross," "offensive," and "embarrassing." Others accused him of ignoring other problems, including homelessness, to focus on LGBT issues.

"If I were to wear full-on drag — a dress and heels — if I were to do that on Hallowe'en, I don't think anybody would have a problem with that. But suddenly, now I'm going to do it for an event whose key message is inclusively and acceptance, and now that's a problem? How does that even make sense?" said Basran.

Sea change for Interior city

The mayor's plan — and the mostly positive reaction — is a marked change for Kelowna. In 2000, former mayor Water Gray famously lost a Human Rights Tribunal ruling for declining to use the word "pride" in city proclamations. For another decade, the city refused to fly the rainbow flag during pride celebrations.

The Okanagan is one of the least diverse areas of Canada, has one of the oldest populations, and has long been considered one the most conservative parts of the province.

But for the past 10 years, Kelowna has consistently been one of Canada's fastest growing cities — and that's bringing more diversity. When Colin Basran handily won the 2014 election at age 37, he became both the youngest mayor in Kelowna's history, and the first mayor of non-European descent.

"I love the fact that our community is changing," says Basran. "We have a different community than we had, say, three or four years ago. And I'm so proud of that. But there's still work to be done."

Proceeds from the inaugural Sugarplum Ball will go to the Okanagan Pride Society.

With files from Daybreak South