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Squamish businesses work — with PRIDE

From pronouns to beer — Squamish businesses are working on being more inclusive.

While Squamish has its own set of PRIDE events held annually in September, it is celebrated in June in the U.S. and elsewhere

But several local businesses are focusing on inclusion of all, including 

LGBTQIA2S+  folks, every month of the year by making large and small changes in their workplaces. 

For some, this just makes good community sense. 

For others, it comes from a deeply personal place.

Diamond in the rough

Catherine Trueman, general manager of Keir Fine Jewellery, has become a passionate advocate for inclusion at the store and beyond, thanks to being a parent.

Her son came out to her and her husband as being trans in Grade 7.

"Which was a total shock to us," she said, noting at the time, it was a steep learning curve.

"Obviously, growing up, that was nothing that we learned about in school. We got the typical sex education that didn't really teach us a lot of anything back then and certainly nothing about different genders or the gender spectrum," she said.

What she and her husband quickly came to realize was that they needed to support their child so that he could be his happiest self.

They started out using new pronouns, a new name, and buying new clothes for their son.

"Suddenly, our child was happy and started to really blossom, because of that, I have personally wanted to help other parents with that, because it was such a shock to my system — if I could help other parents to learn and be supportive of their children, that makes me happy," she said. "And, ultimately, you will see a happier child."

She hosts a monthly Queer Conversations with clinical counsellor Kristin Trotter.

Go to the Sounding Room Squamish Facebook page or email to find out more.


Bringing the outside in

*Keir has stores in Whistler and Squamish. With the complete support of the store owners, Trueman has worked to make the Squamish store even more inclusive.

The goal is to make sure that customers know they are in a safe space, she said.

"That we welcome them. We have a lot of same-sex couples who will come in and shop for engagement rings and wedding bands. We love helping them," she said.

"Also, being cognizant of using non-gendered language. As I work with the staff, to explain our journey… how to not use gendered language as much."

Doing so, creates a more welcoming and inviting space for people, she said

Trueman notes that the owners of Keir were one of the first in the Sea to Sky to sign up for the RCMP's safe spaces program in Whistler.  A similar program is being developed in Squamish, as well.

She said she would like to see more businesses learn to use non-gendered language and display the PRIDE flag in their windows so that customers know it is an inclusive space for them to go to and find out about resources in the community.

Seeing clearly

Deb Campbell, manager of Omni Eye and Vision Squamish says she makes every effort to ensure where she works is as inclusive as it can be thanks to her journey with her child. 

Campbell's oldest child came out to their parents as nonbinary a few years ago. 

"And that was before anyone had really heard of what nonbinary is," she said. "We had no idea." 

Campbell said initially, her reaction was to wonder what she had done wrong to cause this — her child to neither identify as female or male. 

It took some time to learn and be able to process what her child was saying and what it meant. 

But eventually, the parents were able to ask questions and understand, though the learning continues, Campbell stressed. 

"We just kept open and walked through a lot with them," she said. "We just kind of found our way through — I guess — our ignorance." 

There was a lot to learn, she said, referencing new pronounces and getting used to her child's new name. 

"It is everything — how we address and talk to people," she said. 

Her child picked a new name that was similar to their name given at birth, which made things easier, Campbell said. 

"I thought that was really so loving," she said, adding that her child also showed patience when Campbell stumbled with pronouns. 

Campbell's journey has made her feel strongly that people should never be excluded because of how they identify. 

"That has been so important in anything that I do now, is to make people feel welcome or accepted for who you are," she said. "We are human beings and we should be caring for one another." 

At Omni Eye, to show respect to all customers and staff, Campbell said inclusion is worked into every step of the process. 

"When we are talking to our patients, when you are booking your appointments," she said.

Asking how folks identify helps foster inclusion when patients see the optometrist, she said. 

"So we aren't making a social foible — because we want to honour and respect anyone who walks through this door," she said. 

Advice for parents

Trueman suggests parents support their children by letting them try things that make them more comfortable. 

"Acknowledge your child. If they want to try different pronouns, let them try them. If they want to cut their hair, they want to change the way they present; let them try it," she said. 

"It is a constantly evolving process. We went through big hair in the 80s and made some really bad fashion choices, all of those things — it is about learning who you are. It might stay the same, it might change over time, but be supportive of your child and let them explore who they are." 

The parents say that while there is joy in acceptance, there is a grief process for parents as well, that their child won't be or do some of the things they imagined when they were born — fulfill some traditional image of what a boy or girl child would become — Trueman notes those things weren't guaranteed anyway. 

"Those are also the expectations we think for our children. 'Oh, I had a girl, we are going to all of those things together [prom or wedding dress shopping, for example.] And then suddenly, you are not. But that was never a given anyway." 

If we were less gendered with our children from the start, those expectations would be less of a drama for the kids and the parents when things shifted, she noted.

She also notes that if folks make mistakes with their child's pronouns, it’s best for them to correct the error and apologize, but not make a big deal about it, and then move on. 

Campbell's Advice for parents whose child comes out to them is similar and simple. 

"Be open and love," she said. "It is still your child."

Frothy PRIDE

In support of  LGBTQ2+ folks in the community, Howe Sound Inn and Brewing released a limited edition of its Howe Sound lager that was branded for the PRIDE Squamish celebrations last year. 

"That was to really raise awareness for the Squamish PRIDE, which is held in September,"  said Meg Visaggio, marketing manager at the brewery. The brewery decorates for PRIDE too. 

With COVID, they haven't been able to host planned PRIDE events, however. 

"We still wanted to be on board and show our support and use our platform and the space that we have to still get behind them and show that we support them — amplify that voice," she said. 

The single batch of beer was "really popular in town," she said, adding it was carried in liquor stores in town and a few spots had it on tap. 

"It was really great to see everyone get behind it," she said. 

The hope is that come September, the brewery will be able to host PRIDE events and possibly do the beer again, she said. 

Shifting perspectives

At Howe Sound Women's Centre, work is underway to bring more diversity to all aspects of the agency, according to Jordana Dallaire-Diaz, gender diversity inclusion outreach worker with the centre.

"That has two parts; the internal parts — that is all the mandates and the HR stuff — and then the service delivery, how we are serving clients with inclusion in mind," she said. 

"What it looks like is looking at each program and who they serve and how inclusive they can be. For the most part, all the programs at the Women's Centre can be gender inclusive."

This means that many of the centre's services can assist self-identifying women — including trans, two-spirit and non-binary folks. 

The sexual assault response program, Dallaire-Diaz noted is for all adults. 

For items the centre donates, there is an effort to make them more gender-neutral. 

The centre has made changes to the physical space as well to make it as welcoming to all as possible. 

"Just positive signs that say it is a safe space and including LGBTQ colours and things like that," she said, adding that she hopes to get name tags for all the staff with pronouns on them.

"For that visibility to say we are open to understanding your pronouns without directly asking people," she said. 

She said that for everyone, being inclusive is a work in process. 

"Soon, we will be changing the language on the website; we are already changing some of the language on our brochures," she said. 

"Just removing 'she' and wherever it says 'women' to include the diverse expressions of womanhood," she said. 

"It is just implementing these little but yet huge changes. At the end of the day, it is major."

Dallaire-Diaz said that everyone makes mistakes, including herself, along the way. The important part is to own up to it and do better when you know better. 

"It is about owning up to that and saying, 'Hey, I am sorry, please correct me. Please help me understand.' In that way, we are already showing allyship and already showing that we all make mistakes.... It is keeping that in mind and keeping in mind people will change their expression and gender is fluid and sexuality is fluid," she said. 

Creating a safe place

Gurtinder Bisla of Bisla Sweets said a while back he saw a story online about a woman who had been followed for some time by a man she didn't know. In response to that incident, a shop in Vancouver started to identify as a safe space for women who felt they were in danger. They could come in and order something specific that would signify they needed help. The staff would then co-ordinate a safety response for her.

Bisla thought it would be good to create something for businesses in Squamish that was inclusive of everyone who might need help.  

He reached out to everyone he could think of to see what was possible. 

"The community is growing and if someone is feeling unsafe, then it would be nice if they could just pop into their friendly neighbourhood restaurant or coffee shop or grocery store and get some help and feel a little more comfortable," he said. 

Working with Pride Squamish, he prepared a survey and distributed it through Instagram to many businesses in town to see who was interested. 

At least 18 were, including those mentioned in this story. 

Currently, the details are being worked out to move the idea forward, 

"I want to get labelled a safe space for literally anybody," Bisla said. 

Pride Squamish

“We are honoured to see businesses in Squamish showing up for our LGBTQ2S+ community throughout the year, and not just during PRIDE month,” said Kyle Horvath, Pride Squamish’s president of directors in an emailed statement to The Chief. 

 “We recognize that allyship is an on-going process, and businesses do not become safe overnight because of a PRIDE flag or a sticker on their door. In saying that, we have been working on the framework necessary for businesses in Squamish to be recognized as a 'Safe Place,' and we are almost ready to release this exciting campaign.”

Horvath acknowledged for many folks, Squamish may not feel like a safe place. 

“Our goal is to inspire change through on-going conversations and training opportunities for businesses, employees, and community partners,” he said. 

The program will be free of charge with an option to donate if inspired to do so, he said. 

“We believe that each of us has an opportunity to make Squamish a safer place for everyone. We are hoping that businesses in Squamish will choose to participate in this process with us.”

Anyone interested can email for more information and to get involved.

 Find Pride Squamish on the website, Facebook and Instagram.

Opportunities to grow

The Squamish Chamber of Commerce is hosting an Inclusive Language workshop for businesses on Thursday, June 24. 

Check it out here.