By Greg Price
The following is one story as part of a multi-part series on a Queer 101 session that was held at the Anglican Church through the Taber Equality Alliance and OUTreach Southern Alberta Society.
To better understand the queer community in southern Alberta, all one has to do is follow the signs and symbols.
Tiff Semach works for OUTreach Southern Alberta Society as a community education co-ordinator, and was on hand at the Taber Anglican Church last month to hold a Queer 101 information session that explored many different topics involving the LGBT2Q+ community to help bridge better understanding.
“LGBTQ+ is officially the Canadian media standard that you will see most in Canadian print media or on social media. There is a whole range you’ll see in the community, but it’s just personal preferences,” said Semach as to what the community commonly uses in its acronyms. “The plus symbol is the big one. Adding the plus symbol signifies you are aware there are a whole lot of minority sexual and gender identifies out there that you haven’t being able to capture in that short acronym.”
With the event being called Queer 101, the word is being reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community from the original slur that was being used.
“It does have some negative connotations within our community, especially in places like southern Alberta where it still carries that negativity. But it is a word we are reclaiming and showing that yes, we are a little bit different than what is dominant in our society, but there is nothing wrong with that,” said Semach. “Queer can be used as an individual term or an umbrella term. It has been used in the past in a negative way, but no longer carries all those negative connotations. The important thing to remember with the word queer, but like the other identities with terms, you want to make sure the individual or the group that you are refereeing to are comfortable with the term. Some groups may not be as comfortable, especially in smaller towns like Taber. Generally, we are part of a community that has ever-changing and ever-growing dictionary of terms that we are comfortable with.”
Most members of Taber town council, administration, the Taber Police Service and members at large were on hand for the day session of the event. The audience was shown symbols that are associated with the queer community.
The Pink Triangle is another example of a negative symbol originally that has been turned around by the queer community into something positive. Originally, the Pink Triangle was used in Nazi concentration camps to denote homosexual men.
“Just as the Jewish individuals had the Star of David sewn onto their work uniforms or their clothing in the camps, homosexuals or really effeminate men would have that pink triangle sewn onto their clothes as well,” said Semach. “Immediately after Word War II and the liberation of the camps, many gay men were starting to use the symbol to identify themselves to other gay men that they may not have been able to connect so easily to in the past. It was popping up in pubs and social clubs. Triangles and the colour pink is used a lot in the gay community.”
Lesbians were marked under the Black Triangle.
“Anyone who was marked as a political threat in the concentration camps was marked under this symbol, or anyone who didn’t represent what the Aryan ideal was for a family unit. The assumption was that lesbians or women in same-sex relationships didn’t want a family or weren’t going to have a family who fit into the Aryan ideal,” said Semach.
The most common symbol in the LGBT2Q+ community with association is the rainbow, often seen in Pride Day celebrations on flags and logos and historically is not that old. Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag in 1978 and was challenged by Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the history of California to come up with the symbol.
“They were looking for something they could display in the gay freedom celebration in 1978,” said Semach. “We often get questions about the different colours and the different stripes, if they represent a different sexual or gender minority. That wasn’t actually what Gilbert Baker was thinking in designing the flag. His motivation was that we were a very diverse community that comes form all different backgrounds. There are so many different individual characteristics that make up the queer community, that make up individuals in general. He wanted something that really came together and to him, showed the brightness of individuals coming together.”
The original eight-colour version of the Pride Flag had red (life), orange (healing), yellow (sunlight), green (nature), indigo (harmony/peace), pink (sexuality), turquoise (art), and violet (spirit/soul). Two of the colours were taken away from the flag in later years, for what Semach believes as simple cost considerations.
“Apparently, all over North America, for some reason, hot pink dye and hot pink fabric was ridiculously expensive. They couldn’t mass produce that eight-colour flag after the original version. So they took pink out, and Gilbert being the designer that he was, said it was now imbalanced, so turquoise got cut out as well,” said Semach. “It got cut down to the six-colour version. We don’t have those same cost-prohibitive costs associated with pink fabric now, so you are seeing the eight-colour versions.”