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‘It feels pretty special’: Moose Jaw Pride paints historic LGBTQ2 mural

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WATCH: Moose Jaw Pride is showing its colours with a new mural that represents the city's LGBT history – May 11, 2019

Moose Jaw, Sask., is known for its dozens of outdoor murals that tell stories of the city’s past and present, but until recently, the LGBTQ2 community was missing from the narrative.

Regina artist Karli Jessup, along with a dozen other volunteers, teamed up with Moose Jaw Pride to paint an LGBTQ2 mural on the back of the Rainbow Retro Thrift Shop.

“It feels pretty special. Just having a look at all of the other amazing murals in Moose Jaw, this one is really different,” Jessup said. “It’s brighter, it’s bolder and it’s the only LGBT-related mural in the city.”

The mural is made up of more than 20 colours across 850 square feet that represents a timeline of Moose Jaw’s LGBTQ2 history.

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“It’s important for people to see that our community is something to be celebrated, and I think this bright, colourful image definitely shows that,” said Jessup, adding this is the largest painting she’s ever worked on.

But the Friendly City’s history toward LGBTQ2 people wasn’t always friendly. In 1978, the community stage a protest against American singer and anti-gay activist Anita Bryant — the first such protest in Moose Jaw.

“There was more than 200 people that marched down Main Street, some of them wearing paper bags on their heads because, at that time, you could be fired from your job if people found out that you were gay,” said Joe Wickenhauser, Moose Jaw Pride executive director.

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Signs with hearts and peace symbols depict the landmark protest on the mural – just one of the milestones represented. Symbols of two-spirit and Indigenous history, the city’s first pride flag raising and the importance of schools’ gay-straight alliances are also included.

“Representation in things like this in history and in media is so important into making you feel less alone, into making you feel like it’s okay to be who you are,” said Cole Ramsey, Moose Jaw Pride’s gender diversity representative.

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Design consultations between Jessup and Moose Jaw Pride started in January. Jessup included geometric shapes to ensure volunteers of all skill were able to take part in the painting.

While homophobia and transphobia still exist in the community, Wickenhauser says the mural is a step towards education.

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“Sometimes that homophobia and transphobia is the product of people just not understanding — not understanding where people are coming from or why certain things might be important,” Wickenhauser said.

Wickenhauser says the mural doesn’t erase the discrimination, but it is a sign of how far the LGBTQ2 community has come.

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“A lot of these histories were dangerous for a long time for people to know or to tell. People could lose their jobs or be kicked out of their homes or their livelihoods,” Wickenhauser said. “Fifty years after the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada, I think, is a really important year for us to be telling these stories and say, ‘here we are and this is where we’ve come from.'”

The mural is expected to be finished by Tuesday, in time for the city’s pride celebrations from May 26 to June 1.