Fulfilling Community Need: A chat with Fernie Pride

August 17, 2021

Every year, the Fernie and Elk Valley Pride Festival brings together businesses, allies and queer folks to celebrate the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. As a nonprofit serving a rural community, Fernie Pride Society has a unique perspective. Through their partnership with Vancouver Queer Film Festival, the nonprofit invites their community to watch queer film, and to attend panels and workshops. “To us it was a good partnership because film is an art and communication tool,” says Courtney Baker (she/her). And it allows Fernie Pride Society to expand its network and connect with like-minded organizations with aligned missions. Fernie Pride is committed to ensuring that anyone, regardless of financial status, can attend their events, especially teenagers whose exposure to 2SLGBTQIA+ content is transformative. Because of a low barrier to entry, more community members witness queer voices in the arts. 

How did the Fernie and Elk Valley Pride Festival start?

Courtney: By a parent whose child came out. There were no resources here. So she got people together and started the Fernie Pride Society in 2017. A need was recognized and fulfilled by passionate people. 

It’s encouraging to see community members coming together to support the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. What is your mission as a society?

Courtney: To support, connect, and create a community for 2SLGBTQIA+ people in the valley and provide resources, referrals, and education. 

Do you find a significant need for 2SLGTQBIA+ resources and education because Fernie is farther away from bigger urban areas?

Courtney: Rural communities have difficulty accessing resources. In my experience, there’s an appetite for education and support in rural communities in BC. It’s so important that there is something like Pride for people to find their sense of community.

I agree, it’s so essential for people all over the province, regardless of whether they live in a rural community or big city, to have access to the queer community. This year, VQFF is streaming all over British Columbia, so even folks living in rural communities have access to queer cinema. How does Fernie celebrate Pride? 

Courtney: Fernie is a recreation resort community, so we start with a bike parade instead of the traditional Pride Parade. We also offer drag storytime, drag craft time, workshops and  performances that are well received by youth. Generally speaking, most events are free or of minimal cost. 

A low barrier to entry makes the event more accessible to everyone. The VQFF offers film tickets on a scale from $5 to $21 so folks can choose a price that works with their budget. Accessibility is an integral part of our mission as an art nonprofit. It sounds like engaging youth is a high priority for Fernie Pride Society, too. What youth organizations have you worked alongside? Have you ever received a presentation from our sibling program, Out In Schools

Courtney: We’ve been fortunate to have received support from the Tegan and Sara Foundation for youth programming. For the last year, we’ve been able to have a youth board member on our Board of Directors as a voting position. She also sits on our Youth Committee, funded through the Tegan and Sara Foundation. They provide at least one monthly event for youth and work with our local elementary school to do a public art project. We recognize the value of these collaborations and how important they are to furthering our mission and vision. Our mandate is to support and connect members of the queer community. No, we have yet to receive a presentation from Out In Schools. 

During the Festival, we produce a number of non-film events, including a youth workshop the annually centres different aspects of queer culture, but we’ve had to move much of this online. What are some events you have hosted in the past that you especially miss hosting in real life? I assume you had to organize a virtual celebration last year. 

Courtney: We were fortunate that we had this weird window in our Festival that we could do a combination of the two. We did live-stream everything, but we were able to host most events outside with small in-person audiences (20 person maximum), which was great. It was nice to have it feel more like a festival than just 100% digital. So what did we miss? Everything really, with only having 20 people.

This year, VQFF also managed to offer a hybrid where we host three in-person events but offer all films virtually for people to stream. The theme for the Festival is ‘Longing,’ an emotion which is familiar to me. Aside from a return to seeing each other in person, what are you longing for?

Courtney: Oh, that’s a good question. I’m longing for people to get what they need and for everyone to feel connected and committed to something, wanting for people to regain their passion.

The Fifth Elk and Fernie Valley Pride is happening in September from September 23 – 26. Follow Fernie Pride Society on Instagram and Facebook to find out more details.