Saskatchewan

Kids lead Pride movement in small Sask. community of Foam Lake

It took 10 years of quiet living in Foam Lake before Laura Stewart got the chance to walk in a Pride parade in her Saskatchewan community.

'It's important in small towns because it makes you feel … like you belong,' says 11-year-old

People walking in the Foam Lake Pride parade on June 11, 2022. The community hosted its first Pride parade in 2021. (Nelson Bryksa)

It took 10 years of quiet living in Foam Lake before Laura Stewart got the chance to walk in a Pride parade in her Saskatchewan community.

After moving from Vancouver to the small town, about 150 kilometres northeast of Regina, embracing Pride was not something the dentist did very publicly.

That changed when some of the children in the community started pushing for change and more Pride activities.

"They've inspired me, and I'll probably get choked up talking about it," said Stewart, with tears in her eyes.

"It's liberating, you know, to be able to go back and march in the parade and show … who we love doesn't really matter, and everyone has the right to be who they are."

Last year, an eight-year-old girl in town who wanted to go to a Pride parade encouraged the community to have its first, according to Stewart.

Foam Lake held its second Pride parade on June 11 of this year.

Community members in Foam Lake, Sask., came together for crosswalk painting on May 31, 2022. (Submitted by Dr. Laura Stewart)

Since the 2021 parade, a group of girls have stepped up and, with the help of a teacher, organized a social justice group at their school called We All Matter, or WAM.

The kids have also been the driving force behind other Pride activities this year, including a bigger parade, raising the Pride flag, painting a Pride flag mural on a crosswalk, and creating the Foam Lake Pride Society. Stewart was also one of the founding members of the new Pride society.

'We can all make people feel … more accepted'

Stewart, originally from Moosomin, Sask., didn't hide who she was when she came back to the province about 12 yeas ago, after living in B.C.

However, she and her partner also didn't embrace or celebrate who they were, she said.

She was out, "but when we moved to small town from Vancouver, we became quieter," said Stewart.

"We didn't want to be … 'pushing our agenda,' as some of our naysayers would call it." 

Dr. Laura Stewart, right, during the 2022 Foam Lake Pride parade. She is one of the founding members of the new Foam Lake Pride Society. (Kristen Michalchuk)

Ariana Michalchuk is one of the girls stepping up for change and acceptance in the town of about 1,200.

The 11-year-old says she came out to her parents two years ago and told them she was part of the Pride community.

Now she is a member of the WAM group and the Foam Lake Pride Society.

"I think it's important in small towns because it makes you feel like you're not alone and like you belong," said Michalchuk.

"When I talked to my family, they were awesome, and same with my extended family and a lot of my teachers and friends. They were all amazing about it."

Michaluk and her friends and family made more than 600 ribbons for this year's Pride, Stewart said.

The 11-year-old said it was an amazing experience for her to walk in the parade in Foam Lake this year.

"It feels great to know that we can all make people feel more comfortable and more loved and more accepted," said Michaluk.

Children and adults walked together during the 2022 Foam Lake Pride parade. (Nelson Bryksa)

Preventing 'exodus' of 2SLGBTQ youth

Many people seem to have embraced the Pride movement in town, but some of the girls say more change is still needed.

That includes Libia Helgason, who said she experienced some backlash last year in high school from older students.

She and other members of WAM are already planning their next activity — an art project in the entrance area of the high school to spread awareness, said Helgason.

"I love the fact that these girls have social justice on their minds," said Stewart.

"Now my Pride community looks a whole lot different than it did when I lived in Vancouver. But I love it."

It might be a small community -- but Pride is definitely big in Foam Lake this month even though there is fewer than 12-hundred people live in the town. A group of girls is pushing for change when it comes to Pride and acceptance. We will speak with two members of the Foam Lake Pride Society Dr. Laura Stewart and 11-year-old Ariana Michalchuk.

Stewart hopes to see more boys join the WAM group and more people showing their support for the Pride community.

It's impressive to see the girls leading the town's Pride movement, she said, adding she hopes young members of the 2SLGBTQ (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) community won't feel the need to leave their towns in Saskatchewan in the future.

"The kids are our future.… It seems to me that we're probably not going to have that huge, you know, exodus of our LGBTQ youth," she said.

"Finding acceptance is going to mean that we're going to be able to keep these very skilled, very talented LGBTQ youth in and around our province."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Theresa Kliem

Journalist

Theresa Kliem is a journalist with CBC Saskatoon. She is an immigrant to Canada and loves telling stories about people in Saskatchewan. Email theresa.kliem@cbc.ca.

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