It was a proud day in Port Alberni as North Island College raised the Pride flag for the first time on its Alberni Valley campus.
The Wednesday, July 25 ceremony drew together North Island College (NIC) employees and students, as well as members of the Alberni Valley Pride Society and local allies to celebrate the first-ever event.
“Pride marches and parades originally began as political protest activities,” said NIC president John Bowman in his opening remarks. “Today, our Pride events are an opportunity to celebrate diversity in all its forms and bring people together to help raise visibility and openness in our communities.”
NIC has held three Pride flag raising ceremonies at its Comox Valley campus, and the flag was raised for the first time in Campbell River this June. Luke George, the Port Alberni campus Aboriginal Advisor, said that the college’s union (CUPE Local 3479) has a Pink Triangle Committee, whose purpose is to promote safe workplaces and to fight homophobia, transphobia and other forms of discrimination.
“Their real mandate is to bring recognition, inclusion and acceptance for all students and employees at North Island College,” added George.
Shelley Shenton, president of the Alberni Valley Pride Society, was “very happy” to see the flag raised on Wednesday. “Port Alberni’s been changing in leaps and bounds the last few years,” she said.
The informal Alberni Pride group became an official society in 2016, and this Sunday, July 29 will be the fourth annual Pride Fest in the Alberni Valley (taking place at Gyro Rec Park from 12-4 p.m.).
It was only last year that the city of Port Alberni installed its first rainbow crosswalk using funds raised from a two-week GoFundMe campaign.
And earlier this year, Alberni District Secondary School celebrated its first-ever Pride Day, and School District 70 trustees voted to fly the Ally flag outside of the board office in support.
Bowman said it is important that the college takes part in Pride Week activities in order to make visible its values and commitments to equality.
“There are so many reasons why there is a big need for public education and other community work to overcome negative beliefs that have historically been deeply entrenched in our society for many decades,” said Bowman.
He acknowledged his own experiences as a member of the LGBTQ+ community in the spirit of encouraging openness and understanding. “I came to accept and acknowledge my own orientation later in life,” said Bowman. “Being out, and making the choice to be open, is something that [LGBTQ] people have to do on a daily basis. It’s a process that isn’t over or finished once you’ve done it once, twice or even a hundred times.”
NIC student and member of the North Island Student Union Bert Holden said NIC was one of the first places where he received acceptance, from director at the time Joan Frohn-Nielsen. “It was [Nielsen] who accepted the fact that I wasn’t just a dumb kid,” said Holden.
The rainbow flag on campus, he added, is a symbol of community. “This flag hanging at our entrance will show anyone that NIC is a safe, accepting college,” he said.
Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA and Minister for Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser was unable to attend the event, but sent a letter of support for the symbolic act of solidarity.
“It is easy to forget that not so many years ago, an event like this would have been unthinkable,” Fraser wrote. “We have made great strides towards equality and that should be celebrated. But there’s much work left to do.”
North Island College will keep the Pride flag up until orientation in September, so all new students will be able to see it. The Port Alberni campus hopes to add a third flagpole in the coming months so that the flag can be flown permanently.