Know Them: The Faces of Prism

Know Them: The Faces of Prism

In support of Pride, we created Prism Sparkle. Proceeds will be donated to the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity. 

We also chatted with members of the LGBTQ2S+ community about their lives, the history and evolution of Pride, and what they love about their community. The particularities of these individual’s lives defy the stereotypes and expectations our world places on them. Some are in heterosexual relationships, some are technically proficient on 11 instruments, and some are really into outlaw country music. As Julie Gobeil puts it, “All kinds of queer people exist.” You should get to know them. 

Alexis Fellner

“Pride is a celebration but I think it’s still a protest. It’s a bit of both, and I think it should be.”

Are there any aspects of the LGBTQ2S+ community that you wish were more common knowledge? Are there any things about Pride that you wish more people knew about? 

Part of the spectrum I wish people knew a little bit more about is asexuality. I’m bisexual but I’m also demisexual, which is a part of the ace (asexuality) spectrum. Some people don’t feel a sexual drive or a sexual desire, but they feel much more connected to the romantic side of things. There’s a big difference between romantic attraction and sexual attraction for a lot of people and I feel this gets glazed over sometimes. Demisexual means I don’t feel a sexual desire for somebody until I have an emotional connection. I need to feel like they’re a person. 

There’s a lot of confusion and questions about Pride like “Why do we need Pride? Why aren’t straight people included?” I think a lot of people misunderstand the purpose. The reason you wouldn’t need a straight Pride is because the pride is already there, and widely accepted, so there’s no need to protest or fight for it. 

What do you love most about your community?

The amount of empathy that exists in the LGBTQ community. We’re all so willing to explore ourselves and each other and let people find out who they are for themselves. There’s a lot of empathy for people who are still finding out where they fit (whether that’s in the community or not) and that amount of empathy is hard to find in the world right now. The openness and empathy in the community is not only welcoming, it’s refreshing. 

What are you most passionate about in your life right now? 

Mental and physical health both on their own and how they affect each other. I’m white and cis and straight passing, but I’m part of a marginalized community and I have a chronic illness. There’s a lot of sides to every person that really affect their mental health and wellbeing. And mental health can affect your physical health and vice versa. Lately it’s been about learning about self-advocacy in mental and physical health. There’s a lot of advocacy you have to do for yourself in the medical community with doctors not quite understanding certain conditions enough to be able to treat you, or having to explain to them that you know your body, and you know what you’re feeling. 

People often talk about anger as a negative emotion, yet Pride started with a riot in 1969. The Stonewall riots were an example of how justified anger can create a powerful motivational force for social change. Is it fair to say that, since then, Pride has become more of a celebration? What emotions do you associate with the origins, history, and evolution of Pride? 

There are a lot of “negative” emotions that are really important. Fear is important for survival and I think anger is important sometimes in order to be heard. The Black Lives Matter movement is a really great example of a community getting fed up because they just haven’t been treated fairly, and haven’t been heard. So they needed to get loud because the passion that comes with anger is really powerful, and I think it helps others see the importance of what they’re fighting for. 

It’s fair to say that Pride is a celebration but I think it’s still a protest. It’s a bit of both, and I think it should be. Especially because it has been going on for over 50 years now and we’re still fighting for certain issues within the LGBTQ community. There will always be points that need to be debated, or argued, or fought for. 

Why did it feel right for you to be a part of this campaign? 

I was really flattered when asked to be a part of this because I usually fly under the radar as an LGBTQ person because I’m straight passing. I’m bi and I’ve been out for six or seven years now, but I’ve often been in long term relationships with men. My current partner and I have been together for almost five years. I think that the bisexual community gets different representation sometimes. When a few of my coworkers found out (I was going to be in this campaign) they said, “You’re going to be a great representation of us.” Meaning the rest of us who are also straight passing or also bi and not out. I think I bring a different image of bisexuality than what people might imagine. I’m quite feminine a lot of the time and I have a boyfriend. And I think it’s really important to have that representation. Someone might not fit the stereotype, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get to use that label. I also think it’s really important that I’m a part of the H&B family. I’ve worked at H&B for over 2 years now and I have noticed how much this business really does value our community and values me as a person. They’re very supportive.

Do you have any book or movie recommendations?

I’m not a big reader and I don’t see as many movies as I want to. But the first thing that came to mind was a video game called Gone Home. It’s considered a walking simulator. It's not an action game. There’s no combat. Essentially, you’re walking around a house and picking up clues. It’s very situational and it’s a little bit spooky. The reason I bring it up is because they go through a really beautiful young love story of the sister falling in love with her girlfriend. I played it very shortly before—and then again after—I came out. It’s a very heartwarming, down-to-earth coming-of-age story. And it was really refreshing to interact with a story of a teenage girl figuring out who she is and how her family is going to feel about it. It shows those types of things—like your first love—in a very different light. I thought it was a good representation and it still sits with me today as one of my favourite games even though it’s nothing special. It’s just a really beautiful story. 

What’s your secret skill? 

I’m really good at faux calligraphy. Real calligraphy is not my thing, but I like brush lettering and I get to use it a lot when I write our donation cards at H&B. So that’s really fun for me. But another skill I have that’s a little more abstract is what I like to call “tetrissing.” I’m really good at packing. Packing a suitcase, or packing the car to go camping. And it’s kind of become my job now. I have to try and make room for everything. So, yeah, spatial awareness or “tetrissing” is something I’m good at that people are often surprised by. 

You mentioned one of your favourite hobbies is drawing cartoons. What inspired you to want to be a cartoonist, and what aspects of that genre of art do you find most appealing? 

It kind of fell into my lap. I’ve been an artistic person since I was old enough to hold a pencil. As a toddler, I was already drawing people with faces and arms and hands and making little situations out of it. I don’t consider myself a super funny person so I wouldn’t say I draw comic strips, or funny situations, but I like to tell stories with cartoons. For most of my life drawing has helped me make connections and tell some stories. But the thing that keeps me at it nowadays is just the feel of it. I really like to create and look at things in a different way. I’m really into bold lines and bright colours and sharp contrast. So that’s why I call it cartoony. I can do realism and abstract work, but what I really want to do is make my friends into cute little cartoon people. 

Korinne Konnor 

“I want to be proof that trans people can find themselves.” 

Are there any aspects of the LGBTQ2S+ community that you wish were more common knowledge? Are there any things about Pride you wish more people knew about?

Our history in general. There’s not much taught about queer history in schools or anywhere really. As a queer person I had to learn all that information myself and teach other people around me how to be with someone who is trans and how to talk properly. I came out 15 years ago and it was a very different world then. I think education is so important. 

With the LGBTQ community, a lot of the movement has happened through moments of tragedy that have brought our community together and helped us push forward. You can see this throughout history with the Stonewall riots and the AIDS epidemic. There are also famous hate crimes like the Matthew Shepard murder. Our response to things like this has moved our rights so far forward.   

What do you love most about your community?

I love the tenacity of the community. If you look back at our history, queer people and trans people have existed for thousands of years and we’ve always had to overcome so much. Transexual* surgery started in the 1920s, which is, like, crazy. We’ve had surgeries available for almost a hundred years and only now is it starting to become a conversation. Obviously 1969 and Stonewall was a pivotal moment in history, but we’ve been around forever. People have always been fighting and standing up for themselves throughout history and that makes such a big difference for people like me who came out 15 years ago. I just hope that I’ve helped make things easier for the next person who needs to come out. 

*Korinne is using the original name for the surgery in the 1920’s

What are you most passionate about in your life right now?

Ever since I transitioned I’ve been really passionate about fashion. I like how you can always reinvent yourself and recreate yourself. I like to be an exaggeration of femininity. I draw inspiration from beautiful women but also drag queens. I went to a lot of drag shows when I first came out and so I like to be soft like a woman but really bold like a drag queen at the same time.   

People often talk about anger as a negative emotion, yet Pride started with a riot in 1969. The Stonewall riots were an example of how justified anger can generate a powerful motivational force for social change. Is it fair to say that, since then, Pride has become more of a celebration? What emotions do you associate with the origin, history, and evolution of Pride since Stonewall? 

Pride has definitely become more commercialized and definitely more of a celebration, but I think there are still parts of it that are a reminder to us and to the world that there is still so much change that needs to happen. Pride is a very special time in my life because I came out as trans going into grade 12. I was going to a catholic school at the time, so when it came to grad pictures they wanted me to wear a bow tie like all the other boys, and I was like, “Absolutely not.” I had to fight the school board and I went all the way to the superintendent to get proper representation, but now my yearbook says Korinne. It has my name as is, and I got to have flowers in my photo, and got to wear a dress to grad. Graduation is right around the same time as Pride and it’s always a reminder for me to stand up for who you are, what you believe in, and to march to the beat of your own drum no matter what anyone else says. I think it’s important to be loud and proud. 

Was Pride part of your inspiration to make sure your gender was properly recognized? 

I’m just really stubborn. The beginning of it started in like January so it didn’t have anything to do with Pride at the beginning but graduation was right around Pride. Originally, I was just shocked that someone said no to me, but I’m glad it all worked out because it shows, for our community, that when someone tells you no, or someone doesn’t believe in you, you need to stand up for yourself, make your voice heard, and stand up for what you know is right. I’m just really glad it all worked out.           

Why did it feel right for you to be a part of this campaign?

I think it’s important for me because one of the biggest moments in my life was meeting and seeing a trans person for the first time. Prior to transitioning, I was very androgynous. I wore women’s clothes. I didn’t really understand myself. I just thought I was a gay kid, but that moment (of meeting a trans person) gave me such clarity and I finally understood. So I think it’s important to make myself visible so hopefully—if someone else is confused—they can see there are people just like them, and that it’s ok to be whoever they are, and it’s ok to be confused. I want to be proof that trans people can find themselves. 

Can you talk a little bit more about meeting a trans person for the first time and what that was like? Who were they? What were they like? How did that whole experience make you feel? 

When I was in grade 11 my friend and I came across a queer youth group called Generation Queer or GenQ, so we started to attend. At the time they identified as lesbian and I identified as gay. After being in this group for a couple weeks I found out that one of the facilitators, Zak, was a trans man. I went home and immediately started looking up everything about being trans; everything I had been feeling for so long started to make sense. I was already wearing makeup, wearing women's clothes, shaving my body hair, and a friend of mine was already referring to me in female pronouns. By the next weekly meeting I had already picked my name, knew my transition goals, and officially came out as trans. 

Being in GenQ, being around other LGBTQ+ kids was already significant but to have a trans facilitator / mentor was life changing. Zak really took me under his wing to guide and support me. He was my biggest cheerleader and we immediately became like family. I can't imagine beginning and going through this process without GenQ and especially without Zak to help me that year. It was a place for all of us kids to feel safe, supported, and understood. 

Do you have any book or movie recommendations?

Disclosure by Laverne Cox is a great documentary about trans representation in the media. There’s another really good documentary called Killing Patient Zero on HBO that really changes the story about the first person with AIDS. He obviously wasn’t the first person with AIDS, but he was the first person to work with doctors to help identify what this illness was and help them connect how it was spreading. He potentially could have saved millions of lives. He was a hero. 

What's your secret skill?

I think my skill is perseverance. All my life nobody has ever been able to tell me what to do. I stand up for myself when I need to. I think especially in this community it’s important for you to stand up for yourself and make yourself loud and proud and to refuse to take no for an answer when it comes to your rights. 

You mentioned you’re always looking for fashion that helps you be “almost an exaggeration of femininity.” Could you elaborate on what you mean by exaggerating femininity? What aspects of fashion help you achieve this?

I love a tall heel, bold colours, crazy silhouettes, great shaping outfits. I like really big, bold, beautiful, and glamorous looks. Almost on the verge of drag queen, but not quite.  

Julie Gobeil 

“All kinds of queer people exist. We’re your family and friends and coworkers and we look all different ways.”

 

Are there any aspects of the LGBTQ2S+ community that you wish were more common knowledge? Is there anything about Pride that you wish more people knew about? 

Yeah, I think the main thing I wish more people realized is that all kinds of queer people exist. It’s not just white, thin, cis men. We’re your family and friends and coworkers and we look all different ways. Also, I wish people understood that you can label yourself however feels best for you, and nobody really needs to be policing that. Like if a non-binary person identifies as a lesbian, that’s fine. 

I think you addressed this in a different question, but I think it’s important to remember the roots of it. It did start as a riot with Stonewall. I also think people should be wary of businesses that slap a rainbow on something and call themselves inclusive when maybe the rest of the time they aren’t actively working with queer people, or hiring queer people. 

What made you want to be a part of this specific campaign?

Well, like I said, I can be wary of capitalism in general (laughs). When I was first asked I really didn’t think I was going to do it, and I wrote a long email that included all my questions and concerns. I was really impressed by how H&B addressed all my concerns. They set up a meeting with me and talked about every question and concern I had. They also went the extra mile on a couple suggestions I had made. For example, I was saying that it’s really important to have queer folks working behind the scenes. I gave them some ideas for makeup artists, and they ended up hiring one of the queer make up artists I suggested. So I came in pretty skeptical and I ended up feeling really good about doing it because of how willingly they communicated with me and took what I said to heart. I know in other years H&B has done a rainbow Sparkle Ball but never explicitly for Pride, or for LGBTQ folks. So that was really important to me too. I was assured that the messaging was about Pride and the proceeds were going to queer organizations.

What do you love most about your community? 

With my community of queer friends, I really like how politically active they are. I guess outsiders would call us social justice warriors, which I’m fine with to be honest. I’m constantly impressed with the insights and activism my friends are developing and taking part in. It just makes me want to be better and more educated about various issues. I learn a lot from them. 

What forms of activism do you and your friends get involved in? 

Well right now in Regina we’re talking about supporting a conversion therapy ban, and it’s gone to discussion at city hall meetings with many—I would say bigots—voicing their opposition to the ban. I have some friends who have spoken at city hall so eloquently and made such great, evidence-based points. I have another friend who has started a grassroots movement to support this conversion ban. I’m also on the board for UR Pride—a local organization that has a lot of programs and services for queer people, and that’s really important to me because they’re doing a lot of great work to make things safer and more inclusive for queer (and LGBTQ+) people here in Regina. 

What are you most passionate about in your life right now? 

I would say Regina-specific queer issues are really important to me. Obviously, the conversion ban. Also, a couple years ago there was a public school board vote to make Pride celebrations mandatory in public elementary schools and I was part of that motion. It feels more doable for me to focus on Regina and to make Regina safer and more inclusive for queer people versus trying to attack the whole world and system. I’m just really passionate about local activism. 

People often talk about anger as a negative emotion, but Pride started as a riot in 1969. The Stonewall riots were an example of how justified anger can be a motivational force for social change. Is it fair to say that, since then, Pride has become more of a celebration? What emotions do you associate with the origin, history, and evolution of Pride since Stonewall? 

I definitely believe that anger can be a forward-moving emotion. Sometimes that’s the only way to get things noticed, or to get things moving forward in terms of equality issues. As I said earlier, I do think it’s unfortunate how people can quickly forget the roots of it, and then it just seems like a fun rainbow party. Some of the most staunch, politically progressive people I know don’t participate in Pride, and I think it is capitalism—the businesses jumping on board—that really grinds their gears. As a queer person, who identifies as a progressive, it’s nice to march in the streets with a bunch of people who are happy for you. I’ve marched with my mom and brother and it just feels amazing. So I’m not totally cynical about Pride. My mom came one year and we met up at Pride and she had a big sign that said: “I love my gay daughter.” That was pretty great.  

Do you have any movie or book recommendations? 

Yeah I’ve read a few books recently where the author is queer or the main character is queer or both. The one I read most recently is called The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta. It’s a young adult novel that’s super good. Milk Fed by Melissa Broder is great. I’d recommend a biography called On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous By Ocean Vuong. One that’s good for Queer history is Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg. That’s just a really amazing book about being a butch lesbian in the 70s in America. 

I also have a couple of TV recommendations. The new season of Shrill is really good. The main character’s best friend is in a relationship with a non-binary person which is pretty cool. The show The Bold Type is so good. I don’t know anyone else that watches it, but in my opinion it’s super inclusive and there is lots of queer representation, and then I May Destroy You is obviously epic. 

What’s your secret skill? 

The only thing I could think of is that I have really nice penmanship. Aesthetics are kind of important to me in all aspects of life, but yeah I have very nice writing and I’m really picky about my pens and it’s a whole ritual for me. I was writing down my answers to these questions because I don’t always get a lot of opportunities to hand write. 

What interests you most about the world of fashion? 

I’m really into red carpet fashion. I like to post photos and recaps of red carpets as they’re happening on my Instagram. I also add witty captions and judgments of the outfits people wear to events like the Oscars, Grammys, or especially the Met Gala. That’s just something I love. I follow a lot of high fashion designers on Instagram too and it’s always so cool to see someone wear a look that you remember seeing on the runway. 


Echo Roberts 

“The LGBT community remains resilient and able to fight back for our rights and the rights of future generations. I feel that same resilience within the Indigenous and two-spirit communities.”

Are there any aspects of the LGBTQ2S+ community that you wish were more common knowledge? Are there any aspects of Pride you wish more people knew about? 

Definitely supporting trans people. There are so many hateful discriminations against the trans community and laws that are being passed in other countries that are taking away their rights; that’s something that is so important to talk about. We need to help that cause right now. 

What’s a good way to make your voice heard? 

I think social media is a good way. You can help create or share videos and bring as much awareness as you can to these things online with your posts. People spend a lot of time there these days. It’s a good way to get your message out there. 

What do you love most about your community?

I love that no matter how many generations of discrimination we go through—like hate, violence, and misunderstanding—the LGBTQ community remains resilient and able to fight back for our rights and the rights of future generations. And I feel that same resilience within the Indigenous community and two-spirit community. 

What are you most passionate about in your life right now?

Definitely my photography. It’s one of my biggest passions. It’s really hard for me to put what I’m thinking or feeling into words because I’m not very writing or tech-savvy, but I like how I’m able to take a photograph and show my creative self through that photograph. 

Are there any photographers that you’ve drawn inspiration from? 

Yeah there are a couple in Saskatoon. Tenille K. Campbell (@sweetmoonphoto) is a great Indigenous photographer in the Saskatoon area.

What are some consistent themes throughout your photography? 

Definitely couples. Just being able to capture their love, their lifestyle, and how they interact with each other to show how they are instead of having them pose. I like trying to capture their unique love story through the ways they interact with each other. 

People often talk about anger as a negative emotion, but Pride started as a riot in 1969. The Stonewall riots were an example of how justified anger can be a motivational force for social change. Is it fair to say that, since then, Pride has become more of a celebration? What emotions do you associate with the origin, history, and evolution of Pride since Stonewall?

I think a lot of people look at Pride as an excuse to party and have fun, but it started out as a riot because of how LGBTQ people were being treated and even now there’s so much injustice for the LGBTQ community in North America and other countries. Pride was started by a Black trans woman rioting against police violence and I feel like that doesn’t get talked about enough. To this day Black trans women are often the targets of violence. There’s a mixture of feelings—and I know it’s hard to talk about these things—but Pride isn’t just about celebrating. It’s also about remembering that history and the struggles and sacrifices that give us Pride today. That’s why Pride is so important right now. 

Emotionally, I love that Pride is there. It feels really good that, as a group of people, we’re able to celebrate ourselves and have it well known. At the same time, it’s frustrating because you read all these comments online that are like, “Why do people need Pride?” And there’s so much violence against the LGBTQ community and it’s happening everyday. That’s why we have Pride, and that’s why it’s so important to keep talking about it. 

Why did it feel right for you to be a part of this specific campaign? 

I like to be an advocate for the LGBTQ community as well as the two-spirit community. As an Indigenous person, I’m really happy that H&B gave me this opportunity to use my voice to give back to the LGBTQ community. I chose to wear orange for this campaign because my father was a Residential School Survivor. 

I also saw that H&B has had Indigenous models before so that made me feel like I could trust them. I know that H&B had a rainbow Sparkle Ball before, but this is the first time they’re doing it for Pride, which is really cool. 

Do you have any book, movie, or TV recommendations? 

Disclosure on Netflix. It’s about how Transgender people have been represented in a really mean, negative way in the media and how it has led to the current widespread backlash towards trans rights. Indian Horse is also really good. It follows a kid who was taken from his home and brought to a residential school. It’s a really powerful movie. I think everyone should watch it, especially in North America. 

What’s your secret skill? 

I can come up with really creative solutions when I’m put on the spot. That’s like the only thing I could really come up with for this question (laughs). I think I’m a pretty creative person naturally. There’s a saying, “A Native is never stuck” (laughs). I say that a lot. If something ever breaks at home I’m always able to fix it really quick. I’ll figure it out. I think if I was stuck somewhere on an island I’d probably survive. 

Has your relationship with your Indigenous heritage evolved or changed since you began identifying as two-spirit? 

So I never really began identifying as two-spirit because it’s been a part of my Indigenous heritage my whole life. As I got older, and understood more, I identified more loudly and proudly. It’s important to me to keep that history alive that Indigenous people lost because Indigenous people were always accepting of the gay community. Gay people were always highly respected because you were able to love both female and male. And spiritually you were considered both female and male. 

I think Indigenous acceptance of the gay community was lost because of colonization. Colonizers tried to force Indigenous people to lose their traditional beliefs. And sometimes Indigenous people today don’t agree with gay people and that’s sad to see because it was something that was highly respected and important traditionally. It was normal, and that doesn’t really happen with a lot of cultures. That’s why it’s important to me. Even though history has changed, it’s nice to know back then I would have been accepted for who I was.  

You mentioned that you’re very passionate about sharing your culture’s teachings. What is a piece of cultural wisdom that helps you when you encounter some of the pitfalls of our current world? 

My mother was one of my biggest teachers when she was here. She was passionate about how I was raised and made sure I had that connection with my Indigenous culture and roots. Respecting is a huge thing with the Indigenous community. There’s an importance placed on respecting spirituality, all of life, and nature. Nature is especially important to respect right now because we’re living in a world with climate change and it’s really scary. 

How do you think we can bring these Indigenous cultural teachings more to the forefront in a world that seems to flounder in our support for things like the environment?

Bring awareness to Aboriginal people. Indigenous peoples' voices are always silenced. For example, during the (Red Dress Day) for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Instagram removed everyone’s posts, and that’s a perfect example of how Indigenous people, even today, are being silenced. That’s something that I’ve always lived with, but knowing about it helps you keep fighting. It makes you push back ten times harder. We’re trying to let people know that’s why we need to do these things like block pipeline construction and protect the planet as much as possible. That’s what Indigenous people are trying to do and that’s what we’ve always been trying to do. 


Ciel Butler 

“There is a lot of stigma around what it means to be non-binary in society right now. I’m very thankful to be here today because I can represent just one faction of what it means to be non-binary.”

Are there any aspects of the LGBTQ2S+ community that you wish were more common knowledge? And are there any things about Pride you wish more people knew about? 

Through the internet age, there’s a kind of common perception that most members of the LGBTQ community are in their late teens, or early twenties and they’re all social activists. And I think more people need to understand that there are people in this community of all ages. There are people—from children to the elderly—who are living their best lives as members of the queer community. I do find that it is the activists that get the spotlight because they’re always around, which is amazing as they are a crucial part of our community and its advocacy. I just hope that people realize that they’re not all that exists out there. 

What do you love about your community?

Definitely the people. I know that’s kind of a broad answer. I didn’t enter the local LGBTQ+ community until about two years ago—cause that’s when I first came out—and I was astonished at the difference of people I could relate to once I entered this community. Before, I had all these friends but I never really felt like I belonged anywhere, and then once I found all these queer people I was like “Ah, there’s more out there like me. I’ve got a community of people who are supporting me who will be by my side. That was really neat.” 

What are you most passionate about in your life right now? 

It’s a little hard to be passionate about things with this current climate that we’re in. But despite all the circumstances, I have managed to become very passionate about songwriting during the pandemic, and I’ve been doing a lot of that. I’ve even released an album kind of unofficially. It’s very amateur, but that’s been my biggest passion. Drag has also been a passion that I’ve been trying to keep up with during the pandemic by practicing my makeup skills and performance and all that. 

Have you been doing drag shows over Zoom? 

There’s been a number of Zoom shows in the past year and a bit. I’ve personally been getting a little bit tired of the Zoom shows because they don’t give me the same sense of fulfillment that the in-person shows do, but we take what we can get. 

I’m curious about that though because in the drag shows that I’ve been to, the audience has been such a huge part of it. It’s almost like performance art in a lot of ways. 

Absolutely it is. 

So I was curious as to how that would translate over Zoom. 

Yeah so with the Zoom performances, you have the host and then they set up a pre-recorded performance that you’ve submitted, and then there’s a chat box for any audience that’s watching cause we usually do it over Twitch. The people in the chat will be hyping us up over the Twitch stream and they’ll be like “Yaaaas! Go go go!” And that’s always exciting, but there are always less people in the audience than there would be for a normal show. So that’s one disappointing factor, but it’s still something. 

People often talk about anger as a negative emotion, but Pride started as a riot in 1969. The Stonewall riots were an example of how justified anger can be a motivational force for social change. Is it fair to say that, since then, Pride has become more of a celebration? What emotions do you associate with the origin, history, and evolution of Pride since Stonewall? 

Yeah, so I think it would be fair to say that, since Stonewall, Pride has become more of a celebration. I would discourage people from saying that it has become only a celebration though because—despite how far we’ve come in our society in accepting and giving rights to LGBTQ people—in North America there is still discrimination against LGBTQ+ members. For example, bathroom laws and restrictive sports rules prevent trans people from having the same rights as everyone else. There are still issues for everyone in this community in terms of being accepted by society as a whole. I do think that it has become more of a celebration, but that doesn’t mean that the protests should stop or are going to stop any time in the future. I think they’re pivotal to getting more awareness of who we are and bringing more awareness to our rights and lives. 

I think we’re very privileged to live in Canada where we have a lot of rights, but there are still 71 countries where being LGBTQ+ is illegal and there are 12 countries where it’s punishable by death. So I feel like through our development and our rising to celebration, we’re also representing the people in the world who don’t have those rights yet. So we need to keep fighting for them. 

Why did it feel right for you to be a part of this specific campaign? 

I feel like I was a pretty good fit for a campaign because as a trans masculine non-binary person, there is a lot of stigma around what it means to be non-binary in society right now. There’s a lot of people in our society who don’t understand it. They lump the idea of being non-binary into one single category of person despite non-binary being an umbrella term and there being many identities that exist within it. I’m very thankful to be here today because I can represent just one faction of what it means to be non-binary. Maybe that can help people broaden their horizons and realize that “Oh, there’s more than one type of person than what I thought could fit here.” 

Do you have any book, movie, or tv recommendations? 

Yeah I do. I recently read a book called I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver. It’s about a kid who comes out as non-binary and their parents are completely unaccepting. The book follows this kid’s experience of going through life and trying to find a community that accepts them. It was phenomenal for the way it described the struggles that somebody coming to terms with being non-binary would go through. I’ve never read a book that I was able to relate to in that way before.

The other recommendation I have is the TV show on Netflix called Sex Education. It has the most sexually diverse cast that I’ve ever seen on television and they go in-depth talking about different sexualities and different gender identities as though they were completely normal and part of the growing up process. Not as something that’s to be tokenized, and I really appreciated that from the show. 

You mentioned you’re passionate about music. What instruments do you play? 

I did my degree on the trumpet. I also play classical guitar. In school we learn to be proficient on every band instrument that exists. So that was really fun. 

What’s your secret skill? 

I’m technically certified proficient on 11 different instruments. 

Ok, you have to name them for me. 

Trumpet, classical guitar, ukulele, clarinet, flute, oboe, saxophone, trombone, tuba, french horn, oh and drums!

Maybe we can just time travel a little bit and talk about pre pandemic times, back when you were performing, what do you like most about performing and what’s your favourite reaction to get out of an audience? 

My favourite thing about performing is the audience to be honest, which is why performing online isn’t doing it for me lately. It’s the hype that you feel when you first get onstage and you hear everyone excitedly buzzing for what you’re about to do, and the second you begin everyone is screaming and everyone’s excited, and it just fills you with adrenaline to the point that you’re just having so much fun. 

In terms of the reactions I like to get, I feel like it’s always based on the number you’re doing. If I’m putting on a comedy number, I really want people to laugh cause if they don’t I’m gonna be awkward. I’ll be like “Sorry, I tried my best.” And if I’m doing a number where I’m just looking super fierce and fabulous, I just want people to be like, “You look amazing, oh my god.” That’s all I want and then I’ll live my best life on stage.

Before the pandemic I was a lot more focussed on my drag performances and every time I had a show coming up that’s all I could think about. I would do my other activities but always be thinking about costumes, numbers, all that stuff. 

Ryley Koma 

There’s something amazing about groups of human beings who are just like, “I like you. We got you.”

What do you do for work? 

I’m A floral designer at Wascana Flower Shop. I’ve been part of that team for over 12 years. It’s good. It’s hectic. Everyone thinks, “Oh, a flower shop, that’s fun and relaxing.” It is a high paced environment that’s constantly evolving and changing every day, which is why I’m passionate about it. 

What are you most passionate about in your life right now? 

My work. I love what I do. My work is one of the biggest priorities in my life right now. I’m in an industry that nobody is in to get rich. We’re in it because we love it. I’m lucky enough to build relationships with families because you do the major life events like grads, bereavements, and weddings. It’s nice to build relationships with people who respect what you do, and what I do is emotion-based. It’s the biggest love of my life. I’ve worked with the same group of people for 12 plus years. We often joke that we spend more time together than the girls spend with their husbands or any of us spend with any of our friends. But we get to do what we love and we get to do it with the people that we love everyday. That’s probably the biggest gift that I could ever receive in my life.

Are there any aspects of the LGBTQ2S+ community that you wish were more common knowledge, and are there any aspects of Pride you wish more people knew about? 

I think, because of its portrayal in the media, people often look at Pride as a big party. And, being a gay man, this is going to sound bad, but I’ve never been one to make it a priority to be present at a parade. I do feel that it plays into stereotypes. Often the only things that are shown through Pride parades are the flamboyant parties instead of the commitment to change. Celebrate yourself however you want, but what gets lost in my opinion is the core of what the march is for. Being recognized as equals is a basic human right. If Pride were subdued a little more you’d see a lot of everyday people walking who just want equality. These people are teachers, doctors, lawyers, cashiers at the grocery store, your kids, and more. People always say, “Why don’t we have a straight day parade?” Well thank god you don’t have to. Thank god you don’t have to have a march and fight to have your rights recognized.  

What are some of the things you love most about your community and the everyday people within it that you mentioned earlier? 

We’re the same as everyone else and that’s all we’re asking to be seen as. Coming from a really small town, my understanding of being gay was not positive. It wasn’t something that wasn’t spoken about in the community, or at school, or with friends. Anything that was said (about being gay) was always negative. It was a term to beat somebody down. When I moved to Vancouver at 18, I had this big epiphany when I was on the bus heading downtown to school. It was literally the moment I knew. I was by Burrard street and I saw two very well-dressed men outside of a building and they kissed, and nobody even noticed. That’s when I realized, “This is completely ok.” One guy went into a building, the other guy rode off on his bike and from that moment forward I realized “This is good. This is fine.” Since being accepted into the community, I’ve realized there’s a lot of people who come from backgrounds like me—who weren’t educated about being gay, who weren’t raised in communities or times when it was visible or mainstream. The gay community really just opens it’s arms to people from every walk of life. They back each other. They support each other. They can be complete bitches and cliquey (laughs) but so can I, and at the end of the day there’s a place to go and there’s people like you. There’s something amazing about groups of human beings who are just like, “I like you. We got you. We’re family.” 

People often talk about anger as a negative emotion, yet Pride started with a riot in 1969. The Stonewall riots were an example of how justified anger can generate a powerful motivational force—

I don’t like violence and I never have. Stonewall wasn’t good for showing us as a community and it wasn’t good for showing the rest of society. Stonewall was a difficult scenario. It happened in the midst of the civil rights movement, the counterculture of the 60s movements, and the anti-vietnam war movements. People were saying they’d had enough. To be gay was still illegal then. The events of that night (and many others) originated from raids, violent attacks and arrests, and inhumane conduct towards gay individuals. 

The New York city police commissioners finally publicly apologized in 2019 for the NYPD officers’ actions in these riots. I think in 1999 Stonewall was put on the national registrar and recognized as a historical place. It was a movement. That’s why it always bothers me when we talk about that night as the beginning of Pride when in fact the first Pride Parade was one year after the riots, to continue the fight for equality in a peaceful accepting movement. 

When it comes to anger and Pride...that’s just a loaded question. It’s difficult to go back to a point that you didn’t live through that’s prior to the AIDS outbreak and the blame that came with that.. I remember when I came out, my Mom said, “It doesn’t matter how forward thinking this world gets. There will always be people who want to hurt you. And more people who want to see you fail than want to see you succeed. And no mother wants to see her child hurt, and I will love you and support you no matter what.” For some reason there are always these people with anger towards others that they don’t understand. Those people shouldn’t have a voice or opinion in saying, “You can’t be with somebody, or you can’t love somebody. You can’t have children. You can’t. You can’t.” But you can? In what world was it ever ok to think that you’re better than others? At the end of the day we’re all human beings. But through it all—the anger and aggression—it did create change. 

Why did it feel right for you to be a part of this campaign? 

I’ve shopped in a lot of places where I’ve been told “This is for women.” I’ve always worn H&B and loved it, and I love what Rachel and the whole company stands for. When I was asked to be a part of this I was like, “Holy, this is really, really cool.” This campaign is Canadian-based, it’s Saskatchewan-based, and to know how many people there are who pour their heart and soul into this stuff, and to know that the proceeds are going to charities for the LGBTQ+ community—it’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing to be asked to be a part of it. It makes you look at yourself and think “Maybe I’m not as bad as I think I am in my own head sometimes.” To be part of something with a group of people that’s going to help a lot of others in the LGBTQ+ community—it’s amazing. It’s kind of a blessing. 

Do you have any book, TV, or movie recommendations? 

I’m old school so one of my favourite books of all time is Perfume by Patrick Süskind. I’ve read it like a million times. It’s kind of dark, kind of twisted, but it’s really descriptive and pretty amazing. Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses is another book I really enjoy. Stand By Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation by Jim Downs is one of my favourites. My sister got it for me from a human rights museum in the states. It’s written by a pretty significant historian and it covers gay and lesbian life in the 1970s.

He digs into the history of the various groups, and the substantial movements in gay history in the 70s that really haven’t been made public or talked about much. So that’s another favourite. 

What would be on your Pride playlist?

I don’t have a Pride playlist. Never have. Never will. I just love having music as a playlist to my life. I’m born and raised on a ranch. I’m as backwoods as they come. I love music though. People that know me well joke and say I’m an old man. I love Country and I love old Country. I like my Loretta Lynn and my Johnny Cash. Then I’ll switch over to Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan and so much more. Music lives with you. That’s why I love Country music. A lot of people would call my music depressing. I call it relaxing. At the end of the day I’m kind of a hopeless romantic and I like a good love song. 

Do you have a favourite love song off the top of your head? 

A newish one would be Slowdance in a Parking lot by Jordan Davis or Dance with me by Johnny Reid. Meet in the Middle by Diamond Rio. You can’t go wrong with Dolly Parton. Same with Willie Nelson. The storytelling in older Country is the thing. It has actual substance. I also love classical

music too. Chopin Nocturne number 9 is one of my all times. I’m super old school. The other day I accidentally called Billie Eilish Billie Irish at work. That’s about where I’m at with modern music. 

Writing: Carter Selinger

MUA: Alex Paul Artistry