Hi everyone! I’m Kirsten, de previous chair of LUPride. The past six months, I’ve been travelling Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand with my girlfriend. During this once-in-a-lifetime trip, I’ve made notes on how people react to us, a female gay couple, and how queerness in general is treated in the countries I’ve been to. So if you’d like to know how it is to travel around as a female gay couple in these countries and like a bit of a personal story, instead of relying only on official information from the government and tourist websites: here is part two of my story!
Part 2: Canada
In Canada, my girlfriend and I rented a small Jucy campervan to travel around with for the seven weeks we were there. We started in Vancouver, took the ferry to Vancouver Island and back and drove on to the National Parks of Banff and Jasper. This meant we stayed on the English-speaking West-Coast of Canada; the quieter part of the country.
Although we didn’t venture into the cities much, which usually means you see less of the LGBT+ activity in a country, LGBT+ activity came to us. As most of you already know, Canada is one of the most progressive countries on LGBT+ legislation and acceptance. And they want to show this to everybody! In The Netherlands, you will usually not see any queer activity, until you start looking for it. It’s easy to overlook the occasional queer flag of the local gay bar or miss the local Pride Festival. Oh, and your city might have a ‘gaybrapad’ (rainbow crossing).
In Canada, in contrast, queerness is visible everywhere. When we went to the little townships of Jasper and Banff, they each had their own rainbow crossing. As did Vancouver, of course. The one in Jasper only being painted in late May this year. They still were in a festive mood about the crossing and along the streets posters were put up on the Diversity Project they were doing. Although the rainbow crossing was the center of the festivities, everyone from Jasper was invited to ‘Embrace the uniqueness of your fellow community members’ by sending in inclusive and positive message about yourself or others. This could be ‘I’m proud to be gay’, but also ‘I’m proud to be native’, ‘Proud single mom’ and ‘I love my freckles’. Or just a positive message, such as ‘You can win any battle’. The overwhelming majority was about queer identities, and people of color and it was amazing to see the intersectionality of all the messages. They didn’t just fight for inclusivity towards queer people, but also for other minorities. And as the whole project was themed around the rainbow crossing, everyone involved with the project, even when they were just talking about their freckles, showed that they also were okay with the LGBT+ community.
In another instance, when we went to a local ATM, the machine welcomed us with the message: ‘Opening doors for an inclusive tomorrow. TD is proud to support over 180 LGBTQ2+ community initiatives and 83 Pride Festivals’, accompanied by a picture of a half open door and a person holding a rainbow umbrella. Everyone using that ATM, which was basically the only ATM in the village, would be confronted with this message. And as the tourists far outnumbered the local residents, this message wasn’t only passed on to Canadians, but to the rest of the world as well.
Next to these positive messages, Canadians also want to show queer people where they are welcome. Bars, shops and other public places, have rainbow stickers on their windows to show that they are queer friendly. Seeing all the inclusive messages, it is easy to assume that you are safe everywhere in Canada, but as is the case in any country, you never know. These stickers on the windows make it less likely that someone reacts negatively or in an inappropriate manner when you go on your date. I would like to see this (more) in The Netherlands as well. I know that most Dutch people are alright with me, but it makes me even more comfortable to have a rainbow promise on the door. Of course, it would be best if our sexuality and gender wouldn’t be a thing at all. But unfortunately, that’s still not the case.
In personal interaction with people in Canada, nobody ever acted weird about my girlfriend and me. Most people of course didn’t know we were ‘that kind of girlfriends’, but those who found out, didn’t act any different or acted surprised at all. For example, on one of our last days, we befriended a middle aged Canadian couple who were our neighbors on the campground. Canadians LOVE to go camping in their own country. Preferably an hour away from their home, for convenience. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Canada is gorgeous. The Canadian couple and us talked a bit and immediately bonded. However, we soon found out they were devoted church-going Christians (Mennonites), which set off our alarm bells. As we all know, Christians (especially those from the American continent) and queer people often don’t go very well together. But when they asked us our names (we all forgot to introduce ourselves at the beginning), the women jokingly said to me: ‘Well, we already know your name, of course! You’re ‘Babe’, right?’ Because apparently my girlfriend had been calling me babe for the last half hour, without both of us noticing. So our initial fears quickly evaporated after that remark. My girlfriend went canoeing with the man and we learned to play bananagram in the evening. We even met some of their family and friends who came over and also didn’t bat an eye about our relationship.
So, overall, being a lesbian couple and on vacation isn’t an issue at all in Canada. Of course, we’ve only been to the west-coast and there are definitely some people in Canada who might not be okay with us, but we didn’t meet those people. In the beginning, I was a bit overwhelmed with all the queer inclusive messages that kept popping up everywhere and ended up being almost surprised if there wasn’t a rainbow crossing in the village we we’re staying.