Through Our Values We Build Community
Our next feature in the #GiveToGrow #SummerStorySeries is from Alicia Smith, Strategic Development Coordinator from Kitsilano Neighbourhood House, and organizer of their first Drag Storytime. Last week was Vancouver Pride, and across ANHBC neighbourhood houses and in our communities, we celebrated! In honour of Pride Week we are happy to share an interview with Alicia. The story is an important one - it is an example of how neighbourhood houses uphold our values, condemn bigotry, and stand beside and celebrate with our 2SLGBTQAI+ neighbours, friends and colleagues!
Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
My background is in early childhood education, I have worked in classrooms as an educator for about 15 years, working with children ages 0-5. I am a cisgender heterosexual woman living on the unceded and stolen lands o fXʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil Waututh) Nations. I am drawn to neighbourhood house work through the lens of liberation and equity through education and empowerment of all neighbours.
What first brought you to Kitsilano Neighbourhood House (Kits House)?
I first joined the neighbourhood as a teacher in the childcare programs, at that time I did not know the mission of the organization, but was drawn to the inclusive nature of the people I began working with.
What is your favourite part about Kits House?
My favourite part about Kits House is the dedication to the betterment of the community by the community. It is such a special place where changemakers come together to slowly, bit by bit, make our community a more inclusive and welcoming place for all.
As the organizer of Kit’s Drag Storytime event in November 2022, can you explain how this event came to be, how it aligned with Kits’ values, and why it was important for the entire community to host the event?
Having worked many years as an Early Childhood Educator I am very aware of how early children are exposed to gendered expectations and wanted to provide families with an opportunity to start a conversation of what might be a differing gender expression than they may have observed.
In November 2022 we decided to host our first Drag Storytime at Kits House. We were excited about the event, and it was strongly supported by our teams as it strongly aligned with our values of inclusion and leadership.
As we began promoting the event publicly and digitally, we sadly began to experience pushback and bigotry from some online users. While this was upsetting and disheartening for our team, we felt the event, even though there were dissenting voices from external communities, was an opportunity to lead our community in demonstrating inclusion of 2SLGBTQAI+ community members, and was an opportunity to demonstrate a more visible expression of the many small but essential changes that have been made internally over the years.
Can you paint the picture of a Drag Storytime?
We have had Drag Storytimes across many ANHBC neighbourhood houses, and they are some of the most joyful and celebratory events we host! All families are invited, welcomed and belong. Children of all ages share in the beauty and love that exudes from the performances. The performers have generously shared their personal stories of growth and finding community. And who doesn’t love rainbows and sequins?!
What challenges and successes did you all encounter?
In the days leading up to our event an anti-drag hate group learned of the event and began harassing our staff in an attempt to prevent us from hosting. We did have difficult conversations around ensuring the safety of our community, while keeping our values of inclusion and leadership at the forefront. We felt that it was pivotal that we not let hate groups dictate who is welcomed into our doors.
On the day of the event, as families entered the building they were welcomed with a wall of rainbows and smiling faces, but closely behind were voices shouting hateful and cruel messages. For some this was an eye-opening experience of what the 2SLGBTQAI+ has experienced most of their lives, and for others it was reopening of old wounds. Once safely inside the doors of Kits House, families joined Drag Queen Storytime, where performers danced and sang silly songs. Children and their families danced and clapped along. I am so proud to have been able to have fostered this moment for the families of our community that had such a lovely memory to leave with especially after witnessing the ugliness of the protestors before the event.
How did the planning of the Drag Storytime event impacted your growth?
The planning of this project and my experience with such resistance from a hateful community, has only given me more motivation to further foster inclusion for the 2SLGBTQAI+ community. I had been living under the presumption that we as a society had made more progress in this regard than was demonstrated by the counter protestors, and it was evident to me that more learning opportunities and growth need to occur.
How would you say that the Drag Storytime led to growth and connection within the wider community of Kits?
The event was a pivotal moment for our community in Kitsilano, as an organization we were proud to take a supportive stance in hosting this protested event, but also received so much love and support in return from the 2SLGBTQAI+ community of Kitsilano that showed up to counter-protest and protect the families and children that chose to attend. It was such a beautiful demonstration of the reciprocal relationship that the formalized organization has with the community that gives it life and purpose.
At ANHBC, we are proud to celebrate and uplift the diversity, resilience, and beauty of the 2SLGBTQAI+ community.
While we recognize and condemn the bigotry that continues to impact the day-to-day realities of queer people, we also commit to ensuring that everyone has a safe, inclusive home at their local neighbourhood house. To our 2SLGBTQAI+ neighbours, friends and colleagues, know that you make our organization better and more vibrant. We will continue to stand in solidarity and champion equity within our neighbourhood houses and communities.
Happy Vancouver Pride to all our neighbours!
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