Growing Small-Town Pride, One Community at a Time

Mountains may divide the Basin, but thanks to the Fernie Pride Society, 2SLGBTQ+ groups across the region are now more connected than ever. The new Columbia Basin 2SLGBTQ+ Network enables pride organizations to access support, exchange information, share resources and—most importantly—foster a collective vision for a more equitable Basin.

“Geography separates us, but it doesn’t have to isolate us,” says Courtney Baker, Executive Director of the Fernie Pride Society.  “Like most sectors, we work in silos—we want to eliminate those silos, to help organizations become more effective and serve as many people as possible.”

Fernie Pride has become a hub for 2SLGBTQ+ individuals and their allies. In February 2023, they hosted Queer Out Here, a weekend of connection and learning for over 100 attendees. This conference—which included the popular Big Gay Ski Day at Fernie Alpine Resort—celebrated small-town pride with workshops, speakers and social events.

“Not to sound cliché,” says Baker, “but the whole event was like a giant hug. It’s not often you get 100 queer people in a room around here. We all left wanting to make the Basin the best it can be.” 

One of the conference’s goals was to build momentum and create a roadmap for the Basin-wide 2SLGBTQ+ network. According to Baker, it did exactly that. “Many of these organizations are volunteer-run and have limited resources,” she explains. “We were able to take their feedback and make sure their voices became a core part of its design.”

Since then, with support from Columbia Basin Trust, Fernie Pride has brought together ten pride groups from across the Basin every month to foster collaboration, build capacity and ensure organizational sustainability. Several groups have transitioned from grassroots initiatives to non-profit societies. Fernie Pride has also developed educational tools, such as an Employer Inclusion Guide—to promote inclusive workplaces.

Though based in the Elk Valley, Fernie Pride’s efforts to create safe, welcoming places for 2SLGBTQ+ individuals extend far beyond. “We want to make change for all communities,” Baker states. “Realities can be tough, and depending on social circles, people might unaware of others’ lived experiences.”

Baker, who grew up in Fernie, has seen the town evolve since the mid-eighties. She’s noticed increasing year-round support for 2SLGBTQ+ individuals from both people and businesses, along with a rise in requests for resources and guidance. Baker believes this type of community-wide support is essential for every town.

“In small towns, young people often leave,” she notes. “We want our communities to be places where queer youth see themselves growing up, where ‘family’ exists everywhere, not just in urban centres.” 

While Fernie Pride focuses on 2SLGBTQ+ communities, Baker acknowledges that their intersectional work benefits everyone. Their efforts are connected to broader initiatives aimed at making the community a great place to live.

“These groups are vital to our towns,” Baker emphasizes. “Our goal is to keep people here and make everyone feel welcomed and accepted. That’s what we’re trying for.” 

Fernie Pride recently launched the Queer Health Initiative, supporting the physical, social and behavioural health of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. They continue to develop and share resources, while enhancing the capacity of pride groups through the Columbia Basin 2SLGBTQ+ Network. 

Ten years ago, the Elk Valley’s 2SLGBTQ+ community had never gathered as a group. In 2016, a Facebook invite led to the inaugural BBQ, called the Queer-BQ. Four months later, Fernie Pride Society was officially formed. At the 2023 Elk Valley Pride Festival, the pride flag was raised outside Fernie City Hall—a symbol of growth, change and celebration.

Looking to the future, Baker hopes 2SLGBTQ+ visibility across the Basin continues to grow. “Communities are stepping up,” she says, “Whether it’s painting crosswalks or raising flags at city hall—it’s about being a real part of the community.”

The next Queer Out Here conference is scheduled for 2025. Baker is eager to see it travel throughout the Basin, with a different pride group hosting every two years. Cliché or not, the “giant hug” from the first conference had a significant impact, kickstarting collaboration among 2SLGBTQ+ groups. This type of Basin-wide connection—one that transcends geography and distance—has the potential to enhance small-town pride each year.

Learn more about the Network and access resources at ferniepride.ca.