SASKATOON - When Bobbisue Thompson looks at the long history of LGBTQ2S+ lives and activism in Saskatchewan, she sees many places where her experiences — as a trans woman living in Turtleford, a town of fewer than 600 people — intersect with so many others from all across the province, from the major cities to the smallest hamlets.
“Getting people to share their stories, you see so many parallels between everyone — and most of it is about the way society treats us,” she said.
“It’s improved, but there’s a long way to go. We have a huge, huge amount of progress that needs to be made yet, and I want to do what I can for my grandchildren.”
A member of the “alphabet mafia,” as she happily describes herself — referencing the many identities encompassed by the LGBTQ2S+ umbrella — one place Thompson finds community is at conferences like Spark Your Pride, which had its fourth annual event on Tuesday at the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon.
The theme of this year’s gathering was "Sharing our stories: Queering our proud Prairie past." Conference organizers wanted to bring together older LGBTQ2S+ people from all across Saskatchewan and support them in telling their life stories — to each other, and to make sure they aren’t lost to history.
“The conference is really about including the voices of the LGBTQ2s+ population in the history of Saskatchewan,” said conference chair Cheryl Loadman. “We’ve been talking, for a number of years, about the fact that the story of Saskatchewan as it’s told doesn’t include the queer population in the narrative.
“(This conference) connects people to the need to tell these stories, because we don’t have a history — we don’t exist in Saskatchewan’s history — unless we talk about it. Now we’re telling these stories.”
Loadman, who lives with her partner on an acreage between Delisle and Vanscoy, said hearing from today’s community elders is absolutely critical, because their unique experiences have shaped important chapters in Saskatchewan’s history.
“This generation has been through a battleground of history, where they’ve had to fight for every solid inch of their rights,” she said. “And so, when they talk about those rights and those battles, they are stories of victory, but they’re also stories of pain and loss.”
Loadman said she knows “it’s hard to talk about” some of this history. In the past, when she’s been asked to talk about her life and experiences of being gay on the Prairies, she’s found it difficult to share, but she also believes that building an honest, true record of LGBTQ2S+ history in Saskatchewan is infinitely valuable, now and for future generations.
Tuesday’s conference included workshops on art, poetry, drag and community-building, as well as presentations about the University of Saskatchewan’s Neil Richards Collection of Sexual and Gender Diversity archive, and the Western Development Museum’s Queer Seniors on the Prairies oral history project.
Members of the municipal and provincial governments, and a former president of Métis Nation—Saskatchewan, visited the conference in person or virtually to share messages of support and gratitude to the LGBTQ2S+ seniors in attendance.
For Bobbiesue Thompson, the most important people in the room were her fellow community members.
“It’s amazing, seeing all the support, when you’re walking into a room of people and nobody’s looking down on you for being who you are,” she said. "Everybody’s supportive. It gives you the realization that you’re not alone, that there’s other people like you — and there are lots of us, you know?
“It’s nice, once in a while, to have people around that understand.”