October 29th, 2020

What makes a community?

By Submitted Article on December 17, 2019.

“Queer people build a chosen family alongside the family that they are born into. I think that’s a survival mechanism; I think it’s a safety mechanism, and I think it’s a self-preservation, and a community-building thing that queer people do.”

– Aaron Fitchett

Informal gay and lesbian social groups, organizations and activism emerged in southwestern Alberta beginning in the 1980s. GALA/LA (The Gay and Lesbian Association of Lethbridge and Area) began as a community collective to support a number of smaller social clubs and initiatives. The group was formalized in 1996 and eventually split off into OUTreach and the Lethbridge Pride Fest Society.

Student groups also came and went at the University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College, but GALA/LA was the core of the region’s queer communities for nearly 30 years. Volunteers hosted regular dances, operated a peer support phone line, published an unofficial newsletter called “The Occasion” and helped organize one of Canada’s first AIDS walks in 1993 (then called the Red Ribbon Run).

Lethbridge celebrated its first public Pride Festival in 2008, a moment that both marked and encouraged increasing visibility for queer communities in the area. “I don’t feel like I need to validate my queerness to other people… However, I also want to be visible to youth, especially, who may need that support, who may need to see diversity and difference in the queer community.”

– Jena Ursel Semach

Individuals’ experiences differ widely between generations, or depending on their own background. Lethbridge today is made up of many shifting queer communities; some are just small groups of friends, while others are larger, more formal organizations.

To find out more about 2SLGBTQ+ histories in southwestern Alberta, come explore the “Inqueeries” exhibit on at the Galt Museum & Archives until Feb. 9, 2020.

Your old photos, documents, and artifacts might have historical value. Please contact Galt Museum & Archives for advice before destroying them.

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