Pride Means Life

The Importance of Being a 2SLGBTQAI+ Ally

Since time immemorial, the 2SLGBTQAI+ community has had to battle to survive. However, widespread awareness didn’t happen until June 28, 1969, when the Stonewall Riots (also known as the Stonewall Uprising) occurred. Now, June has been designated as Pride Month.

June has just finished, but the battle for queer rights and equality still goes on. Metro Vancouver still has many Pride celebrations to come, over the summer. In light of this, we would like to share some words around the importance of allyship from a member of the Covenant House staff.

Kadee Smedley (she/her), is the Lead Spiritual Care Practitioner at Covenant House Vancouver. Kadee attends East Van Pride in June and Vancouver Pride in August, as a community member, with her family. She will also be participating in the Pride Run and Walk Vancouver this year with other CHV staff.

Kadee was kind enough to share her answers around support and allyship of the 2SLGBTQAI+ community.

What does Pride mean to you?

To me, Pride means life. It means gratitude for queer people, queer culture, and for embracing the vision of a society in which queer people are afforded the same protections, opportunities, and safety as straight (cisgender) people.

What, do you think, are some of the biggest societal challenges for queer youth?

I think the pathologizing of trans folks, youth or otherwise, continues to be not only a challenge but threat to the safety of trans youth and their families. It continues to be challenging — if not impossible — for some queer youth to be accepted, validated, and celebrated in their families and communities of origin. That takes a huge toll on the mental, physical, and spiritual well-being of those youth.

For so many of the queer youth we serve, their queerness — a fundamental part of who they are — becomes an excuse for rejection and harm from those who are supposed to care for them. As the spiritual care practitioner and a person of faith I’m particularly aware of the ways that queer kids, youth, and adults are marginalized within communities of faith or religious family structures. This can look like demands to closet or change themselves — which isn’t possible and is extremely harmful — or to the extremes of rejection, abandonment, and even violence. For allies, and I would say for those who aren’t yet allies, Pride is a call to do right by our fellow human beings.

I wish people would understand that Pride is both a celebration and a call to action. Queer people are still being pathologized, demonized and harmed. We haven’t arrived as a society to where we should be in terms of queer safety and opportunity, we still have a long way to go. It is our collective responsibility to move towards celebration and protection of queer people, and Pride is a beautiful reminder of where we should be heading.

How has the 2SLGBTQAI+ community impacted your life or perspective?

I owe a huge debt to the queer community. I was raised in a cultural and religious community that was hostile to 2SLGBTQAI+ folks. I assumed that hostility was justifiable because I was told it was based on our sacred texts. Those beliefs were first challenged when I was a high school student and attended a PFLAG workshop at a conference. Queer folks spoke at that workshop, and it was my first time hearing from 2SLGBTQAI+ people what it was like to navigate a society that was still openly discriminatory. What they shared was revelatory to me. My religious convictions told me to love my neighbour as myself and I was hearing how that was not happening, in very concrete ways (and ways that my faith community approved of!). The more I listened, the more I realized that I needed to learn from queer people themselves what was loving in terms of policies, legislation, and interpersonal relationships. Fast forward to adulthood and I was already fully queer affirming when members of my own family and community began coming out to me. It spared them (and me) a lot of pain. I owe that shift to the 2SLGBTQAI+ community.

Have you seen any societal improvements around the treatment of queer youth?

One that instantly comes to mind is that public schools (at least in BC) are mandated to be places of inclusion and celebration for 2SLGBTQAI+ children and youth. Having at least one place of safety and affirmation makes a huge difference, and I’m grateful that public schools are working hard to be that space for their students. Marriage equality being a matter of fact instead of an idea to debate is also a huge improvement. Hope for the future is something we all need and it’s wonderful that queer youth can dream about what kind of family they will build if, or when, they decide to do that. Queer representation in film, media, politics, science, sports etc. is something that has improved beyond anything I could have imagined when I was younger, and thank goodness for that!

As an organization, what does CHV being an ally to the 2SLGBTQAI+ community mean to you?

To me, Covenant House Vancouver being an ally to the queer community means centring and celebrating queer people and the perspectives they bring.

The Pride Forward flag is on the front doors of all our buildings and it’s appropriate because that is one of the first things that youth see because 2SLGBTQAI+ affirming practices inform our care and policies from the first encounter a youth has with Outreach or Drop-In until the day that they age out from our services. I think it’s important for Covenant House Vancouver to be vocal about support for 2SLGBTQAI+ rights, because we see the harm caused when those rights are disregarded or devalued.

What are the ways that you support 2SLGBTQAI+ youth, in your role?

Youth who are looking to connect with communities of faith can speak with me and I always provide information as to whether a community they want to visit is queer affirming or not. I call those places myself so that the youth don’t have to (not every congregation is up front about their practices and beliefs when it comes to 2SLGBTQAI+ folks). It’s 100% up to the youth to decide where they want to worship, but I try to provide them with as much information as possible. Queer youth who identify wanting to strengthen or explore their spirituality or religious beliefs can also meet with as part of the support they receive at Covenant House. 

Can you share a recent youth story where you’ve seen a youth flourish because they’ve felt safe and supported at CHV?

I ran into a youth recently who was in our housing program for a significant period of time and is now living independently — working, going to school, and in a beautiful, committed partnership. Before coming to Covenant House, they had never been able to be open about their sexuality because it would have meant violence or death from their community of origin. To see them was a powerful reminder of how important it is for Covenant House to be a place of safety and support for queer youth who are coming to us.

What message would you like to share with the 2SLGBTQAI+ community?

To the 2SLGBTQAI+ community I would like to say:  I’m grateful that you exist, here and around the world. The world is so much richer and more beautiful with you in it. I acknowledge there is much to be made right, here and around the world, to keep members of your community safe, and we will keep doing our part at Covenant House Vancouver to see that into fruition. A very happy Pride to you all, with so much love and respect.

Thank you, Kadee, for your unwavering support of the 2SLGBTQAI+ community!