Pride on the Prairies: Lacombe’s first Pride Society reflects on a tumultuous year

Click to play video: 'Pride on the Prairies: The push for better LGBTQ2+ acceptance in Lacombe, AB'
Pride on the Prairies: The push for better LGBTQ2+ acceptance in Lacombe, AB
WATCH: Rural towns in the Prairies have struggled to accept LGBTQ2+ community members, who have suffered a spike in targeted hate-motivated incidents in recent years. But one group in the small city of Lacombe, Alberta is making efforts to fight against prejudice, and promote acceptance of gay and trans Canadians in their community. Heather Yourex-West reports. – Jun 30, 2023

It’s easy to spot Candice Kikstra’s house in Lacombe, Alta. In a row of cozy bungalows in the little city north of Red Deer, it’s the only one surrounded by rainbows and flags.

“We’ve had vandalism five times since June 1,” said Kikstra. “The first time they stole the big inflatable rainbow but we have very wonderful neighbours who replaced it for us and we’ve had community members show up and drop off extra things.”

The show of support means a lot to Kikstra, who isn’t a member of the LGBTQ2 community herself.

“All of this is for them,” she explains referring to 14-year-old Yaya and 15-year-old Katie. Kikstra’s two teenage children have both come out as queer.

“I came out in Grade 7,” Katie Kikstra said. “I’m out at school kind of … I’m not very loud at school because it’s not fantastic all the time.”

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Click to play video: 'Camp fYreflY LGBTQ2S+ programming in demand at rural Alberta schools'
Camp fYreflY LGBTQ2S+ programming in demand at rural Alberta schools

Candice Kikstra says there was a time when the family considered leaving Lacombe. “My husband and I definitely had those conversations. Our second oldest is in Toronto,” she said. “But we also decided that we needed to make it safer here. We want to make Lacombe safe for everyone.”

Jonathan Luscombe feels the same way. On a sunny morning, the executive director of Lacombe’s new Pride Society sits at a public park table applying sparkly eye shadow. Afterward, he walks proudly through the city’s downtown. These are remarkable acts considering where he was just two years ago.

“I only came out in 2021 just because of the place I live,” said Luscombe. “When I was younger, people shouted the F-slur down the street. You were kicked out of businesses for the way you dressed or looked at with disgust for holding someone’s hand. That was this town.”

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But Luscombe says though change has been slow, the town isn’t like that anymore.

Earlier this year Luscombe helped launched the city’s first Pride Society. The Kikstras were quick to get involved and Candice Kikstra now sits on the board. “We’ve had some events, our open house was a huge success and we had a youth event,” she said.

“Just seeing the joy on (my children’s) faces when they felt like they can be home, and just the relief – to me is everything.”

But the progress comes amid setbacks for the community as well. In May, a recording surfaced in which the UCP candidate for Lacombe-Ponoka was heard making transphobic comments.

Jennifer Johnson was speaking at a forum last September about the public school system versus homeschooling. In the recording, Johnson can be heard saying Alberta’s high test scores don’t matter because some students are transgender.

“It does not matter that we’re in the top three per cent of the world. Who cares if they got 89 per cent in Chemistry 30? Who cares that they’re entering post-secondary if they’re chemically castrated?” she said in the recording.

Johnson went on to compare a handful of transgender students in the school system to mixing a teaspoon of feces into a batch of baked goods.
Johnson was removed from the UCP caucus but won easily on election day.

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Click to play video: 'LGBTQ community not surprised, but disappointed in Jennifer Johnson win'
LGBTQ community not surprised, but disappointed in Jennifer Johnson win

Days later, a pride display on the steps of a church in nearby Ponoka was vandalised. Alberta RCMP say across the province hate-motived incidents against the LGBTQ2 community are on the rise.
“It’s not a good feeling,” says Candice Kikstra. “There’s just some learning that needs to be done on their part and the spread of misinformation is tremendous.”

It’s why the Kikstras and Lucscombe say they’re determined to stay in Lacombe to help educate residents there.

“One of my hopes,” says Luscombe, “is that one day everyone here can exist, can be themselves, can feel loved, and can love the person that they know they are in this town.”

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