What is it like to be gay in Squamish? As the new Safe ’n’ Sound group organizes its inaugural gay pride conference for May 9, The Squamish Chief sat down with four local gay, lesbian or queer people to find out what it’s like for them in Squamish – and how things are changing as the community evolves.
When David Thomson realized at age 12 that he was gay, no one was shocked.
“It definitely answered a lot of questions,” Thomson says, now 18. “A lot of my peers had called me gay for a long time.”
His parents at the time had thought he was transgender, “since he loved pink and wore dresses and came out of the room with jazz hands… so we were prepared for that,” says his mother, Anne Thomson. “There is still this huge feminine part of who he is.”
The parents were accepting from the start. “We said, ‘It’s OK to be what you are,’” says Anne.
But for David, who still dresses in drag to perform onstage, realizing he was gay and having a supportive family did not mean life would be easy.
Some religious classmates warned him that he would not survive the second coming of Christ. And his sex education was Google, he explains. “It led to some misinformation and put me in some dangerous situations. It definitely wasn’t a safe way to learn.”
He did not have the support from a group like Safe ’n’ Sound Squamish to tell him what to expect and how to protect himself.
“When I ventured to date, I got into some really dangerous situations,” he says. “A lot of the dates turned violent, and I definitely had a hard time protecting myself.”
He was confused. “I thought this is what a gay relationship is. It hurt me emotionally and definitely led to some trauma.”
Through the Diversity Club at Howe Sound Secondary School, Thomson learned about healthy relationships. That’s part of the reason he is an active member of Safe ’n’ Sound and a new youth group being started at the youth centre – to protect other youth. “I don’t want a little guy venturing into the gay world and making the same mistakes I did.”
Thomson has just been accepted into Capilano University for the film program. He hopes to eventually write and direct action movies, sci-fi movies, maybe even horror flicks with predominantly gay characters to expand the gay film genre, which consists mostly of sad break-up movies.
His parents and brother support his dreams.
She was walking around a grocery store where they had met two of her ex-boyfriends when her mother finally realized she was queer.
Grace Salisbury, 24, had known she was gay since Grade 9 – or freshman year, as it is known in her hometown of Bainbridge Island near Seattle.
She had mentioned it to her parents, but because she had been dating boys, she says her mother didn’t take her seriously until they were walking around together one day. “She said, ‘You look really dykey today.’ I said, ‘That’s because I am a dyke, Mom. I am gay.”
Now, Salisbury’s parents are very accepting toward her and her girlfriend.
The couple helps lead the Gender and Sexuality Alliance at Quest University. At parties at Quest, Salisbury says, there is a “straight hookup culture” – and few of the students are publicly gay. “I think that exploring sexuality at Quest is still a challenge.”
She and other members of Safe ’n’ Sound, including David Thomson, are helping launch a new group, the Squamish Gender and Sexuality Collective, at the Squamish youth centre this week. She hopes it helps youth ages 13 to 18 who are questioning their sexuality.
Salisbury has noticed a change in Squamish since arriving four years ago. She now feels comfortable being affectionate with her girlfriend in public.
“It’s really nice to walk down the street and not have everyone look at you,” she says. “It’s really nice just to be a couple here.”
Salisbury describes herself as queer, an umbrella term that she says reflects some fluidity, “although I identify very clearly as gay right now.”
“I always struggle with who I am,” she says. “I hope that I continue to struggle with my identity for the rest of my life. I never want to stagnate. I want to be whatever I want to be.”
Margo Dent is a foster parent with nine children, including some from her previous marriage to a man, and she says she and her lesbian partner are usually private about their lives. But Dent is speaking out publicly about being gay to help the community – especially teens – find compassion and understanding. With Danielle Duplassie, Dent cofounded the Diversity Club at Howe Sound Secondary School.
In Squamish, there is some fear about different sexualities, she says. “We only break down that fear by normalizing it. This isn’t about us waving a flag in your face. This is to say: We are just like you. We want supportive relationships and to raise healthy, happy children.”
Dent doesn’t mind labels like “lesbian.”
“A label means it’s a thing, and you are not the only one,” she explains. “There are others, and you will be able to find your community.”
She’s excited about the LGBTQ+ conference May 9, the first gay pride event ever planned for Squamish. Educating youth now will create healthier people later, she says.
Dent’s advice to parents of homosexual children applies to parents of all children. “Parents need to ask: How can I support you? What do you need from me right now?”
Born and raised in Squamish, Trevor Blackman-Wulff married his husband in an outdoor ceremony here last summer, surrounded by a circle of trees and spectacular scenery.
He and his husband, Jason – now a district councillor – were overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support on their wedding day.
But life was not always easy for Trevor.
“From a very young age, I knew I was different,” he recalls, explaining he lived in a family where the men were mechanics and loggers. His own passions were horses and fashion. When he told his sister and mother at age 15 that he was gay, they were supportive, but at school he was bullied on a daily basis.
“The language people used toward me, gay boy and fag boy, they definitely affected my self-worth,” says Blackman-Wulff. “I had big issues with how I viewed myself. I just never thought I was good enough… and I suffered from eating disorders for years.”
He felt no one at school would listen. “I felt incredibly alone.”
Back then, Squamish was smaller and much different than the open-minded community he says it has become. About 20 years ago, he says, when two men were holding hands while hitchhiking on the Sea to Sky Highway, word spread quickly and a truckload of high school students found and pummeled them. Blackman-Wulff has been beat up several times simply for being gay.
Today, Blackman-Wulff holds his husband’s hand walking down the street. He is a happier person who has accepted himself as gay – “I don’t for one second believe it’s a choice” – and grown to ignore the haters. “It doesn’t matter what people say about you.”
He hopes to see a world in which people are accepting of others as humans, regardless of sexual orientation, gender or race.
“I am grateful and thankful to be part of Safe ’n’ Sound and very excited about what we are building with it,” he says. “It’s about spreading hope and spreading acceptance, and visibility. We need to stop making it seem to our youth that there is something wrong with them.”