Gay woman pushing for more acceptance following hateful acts in Summerland | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Gay woman pushing for more acceptance following hateful acts in Summerland

Summerland residents Liz Leedham-Pepin (left) and wife Amelie Leedham-Pepin at a family wedding. Photo by Emily Crites Co.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Amelie Leedham-Pepin

A gay woman in Summerland is getting vocal for the first time in her life about the need for more acceptance by society of marginalized citizens.

This summer a rainbow crosswalk in the small city was covered in racial slurs along with the wall of a secondary school, and a pride flag was pulled down at Summerland United Church, prompting Amelie Leedham-Pepin, 42, to speak up.

“I’d say most of the lgbtqia+ community, Indigenous community, people of colour and other marginalized groups have experienced criticism or violence because of who they love and who they are,” she said. “I’m still uncomfortable being gay around certain groups.”

In a time of polarization, rampant propaganda, anti-trans rallies and hate speech, Leedham-Pepin is finding the courage to share her perspectives and experiences. She said societal acceptance for her gender expression has improved over the past two decades but “it isn’t enough” and “more education is needed.”

“When my wife and I go out into town we won’t hold hands so we don’t provoke people, we're careful on how we act in public,” she said. “There are times we’re at a festival in a big crowd where we will, but I’m not going to kiss her in public, you have to read the crowd. People say no one cares but people do care. Nobody that doesn’t care is ripping down pride flags, vandalizing crosswalks and giving us 'looks.'”

Leedham-Pepin went through high school in Sherbrooke, Quebec in the 1990s when she said being gay “was not a thing.”

“You couldn’t be gay, there was only straight, you had to suppress yourself,” she said. “When I came out at 17 I lost who I thought were my friends. I’d get nasty looks if I was just holding hands with a girlfriend at the time.”

Leedham-Pepin is married to a woman and has been in relationships with men in the past. She “doesn’t really identify as anything.”

“I’m technically bisexual, I guess I’m mostly lesbian,” she said. “I am who I am and don’t need a label. It’s about falling in love with who the person is.”

Today she is looking to adopt children and she wants a better environment of acceptance for them than what she experienced growing up.

“I’m trying to adopt children and if they are transgender or want to transition I will be supporting them, I will be vocal about this," she said. "We heard that some people think that we should not be adopting kids because there’s not going to be a father figure around them, especially if we adopt a boy. We explain that we have plenty of father figures that will be around the kids and it takes a village to raise kids, no matter what type of family you have, what matters is that your kids are being loved and respected."

Leedham-Pepin thinks education is the key to making things more safe for all marginalized people and blames fear and propaganda for the lack of acceptance she experiences in her day-to-day life.  

“I see it, I live it with my own family members, I have to sit down and explain things,” she said. “Kids are learning more about it and it should be taught, and I think kids are starting to feel more comfortable coming out. The propaganda that drag queens are grooming children, where did that even come from? That is such a lie and comes from a lack of knowledge.”

READ MORE: Anti-pride protestor arrested at Kamloops drag story time

An important piece for Leedham-Pepin is feeling accepted in a community, where symbols like rainbow crosswalks and pride flags make a difference.

“It’s important to have them (crosswalks and flags) with the rise of hate speech and hate crimes today, it does make us feel more welcome. The crosswalks are a step forward.”

READ MORE: Newly painted rainbow crosswalk vandalized in Penticton

Leedham-Pepin said she used to walk away from hateful comments and confrontation but things have changed.

“When you get older, you step out of your comfort zone,” she said. “I’m ready to sit down and have a coffee with someone, not saying to agree with me, but at least to gain some understanding. It should be a basic right that I can hold my wife’s hand and kiss her on the cheek and not be given bad looks and hateful comments.”

READ MORE: Chase councillors mum on 'Every Child Matters' crosswalk opposition

Chief administrative officer for the district of Summerland, Graham Statt, confirmed one of two crosswalks in town was vandalized at the end of August. 

"Vandals had spray painted the 'N' word on one of the rainbow crosswalks and our staff quickly covered it up the following morning," he said. "I know it's our council's priority to focus on inclusion and diversity and both crosswalks are currently being redone. It shows the investment on the part of council to show this kind of support for our citizens." 

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