British Columbia

Fierce Merritt: How one man was inspired to start a hometown LGBT club

Hugo McPherson-Ashmore says the hateful email only gives more validity to his cause, which is Merritt's need for a club where LGBT people can feel safe and accepted. So, he created that club and named it Fierce Merritt.

After council's rejection of rainbow crosswalk, email prompted Hugo McPherson-Ashmore to establish meetup

Hugo McPherson-Ashmore says Merritt is in need of a club where the city's LGBT community can feel safe. Last year, Merritt community members showed up to paint a rainbow across the Coldwater Hotel parking lot after council rejected a proposal for a rainbow crosswalk in the city. (John Allison Reid)

When Hugo McPherson-Ashmore decided to start an LGBTQ2 club in Merritt, B.C., he never expected to receive hate mail because of it.

Yet, when he opened his email recently, he found a letter waiting for him in the inbox.

The first line read: "I am not a hater, rather one who feels sorry that you and your ilk failed."

The email continued: "You're a minority, yet want to convince our [people] that your proclivity is normal ... that gay behaviour is normal. Which it isn't."

But McPherson-Ashmore says the message only gives more validity to his cause, which is Merritt's need for a club where LGBT people can feel safe and accepted.

So, he created that club and named it Fierce Merritt. Its first meeting is Friday. 

For McPherson-Ashmore, who moved to Merritt with his husband three years ago, the email came as a shock.

"I cannot believe there are so many people that hate people just for [the] people who they love," he said to Daybreak Kamloops host, Shelley Joyce.

"I feel for the young kids that are coming up that have to deal with people like that. It's just really sad."

McPherson-Ashmore says Merritt is becoming a more welcoming place for the LGBT community but still has a long way to go. (Google Maps)

The inspiration for change 

After McPherson-Ashmore married his husband, the couple decided it was time for a move.

While attending the Kamloops Pride Parade, they pitched a tent at a Merritt campsite. It was on this trip they realized they wanted to make their new home in the heart of the Nicola Valley.

But he says he wasn't prepared for the intense debate sparked by a proposal from a group of high school students to install a rainbow crosswalk in the city.

He says a lot of people were really angry about the idea. It was eventually rejected by city council in February 2018.

"I don't really feel safe walking down the street holding hands with my husband in public," McPherson-Ashmore said about Merritt.

However, he says there was a huge outpouring of support from members of the community after council's crosswalk decision.

He says a lot of store owners placed pride stickers in their windows to show they didn't agree with the decision.

But he says "we still have a long way to go" to make everyone in the community feel comfortable.

Building a safe space

Fierce Merritt will hold its first meeting — which McPherson-Ashmore describes as a low-key event — at Lynda's Café, where he has felt accepted and welcomed since he first visited.

After that, he intends to plan group outings to local events like the weekly Music in the Square and the Merritt River Rock Festival.

He says the meet-ups are open to everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, and the group will be an open and welcoming place where members are encouraged to be themselves.

"There's safety in numbers," he said.

Listen to the full interview below:

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