Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, Mike McCoy feared being arrested and sent to jail because homosexual acts were illegal in Canada. Even now, he says, many of his peers still struggle to tell their stories after having been treated like criminals early in life.
“For folks even older than me, they could lose their jobs, their families,” said sixty-nine-year-old McCoy. “It had a huge impact, even today, on people’s sense of self-worth.”
People who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or two-spirited, or who express their gender or sexuality in other ways outside of society’s mainstream (LGBTQ2S+) have rarely seen their lives represented in museums. To make up for this gap, the annual Spark Your Pride Saskatoon event was created through a partnership with the Spark Your Pride board and Saskatchewan’s Western Development Museum (WDM). The objective is to allow older LGBTQ2S+ individuals, among others, to feel safe about sharing their experiences and building a repository of community history.
With guest speakers, group activities, and community meals, the Spark Your Pride event takes place in Saskatoon during pride week every June. The event encourages gathering, sharing, and acknowledging personal histories of the LGBTQ2S+ community. “Most of the time our stories were silenced, or we didn’t feel safe in telling those stories,” said McCoy, a Spark Your Pride board member and the group’s former co-chair. “The hope is to bring in more voices and, through the chance itself, just raise the awareness of the value of queer history and collecting queer history.”
While the inaugural event in Saskatoon in 2019 was held in-person, the 2020 event was held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing people from across Canada and the United States to join the activities.
Increasing representation of LGBTQ2S+ communities — as well as other underrepresented communities, such as Indigenous peoples and Chinese Canadians — is a priority for the WDM said the museum’s CEO, Joan Kanigan.
In 2018, the WDM launched its permanent Saskatchewan LGBTQ2S+ History Collection. Since then, the museum, which has locations in Saskatoon and three other Saskatchewan cities, has received and catalogued more than one hundred objects directly relating to LGBTQ2S+ histories within the province. The museum plans to continue to grow the collection. It contains objects such as a crown worn by Saskatchewan’s top drag artist, Crystal Clear, who performed in the 1990s before drag became mainstream, and a rainbow flag bearing the letters PFLAG from the Saskatoon Chapter of PFLAG, an organization that helps parents understand their LGBTQ2S+ children.
“Museums exist to serve their communities, and everybody within our communities needs to see themselves reflected within our spaces,” Kanigan said.
“So becoming more inclusive and diverse has been a priority for the WDM.”