I grew up in a small town in Central Alberta. Growing up I felt very alone, I only knew two other gay teens, a guy and a girl. The guy, I dated, and the girl was his best friend so we didn’t exactly get along after the breakup. When I came out at 16 I was the first person ever to do so in my school. I remained the only one through to graduation. As I became able to drive and get myself to larger urban centres I started meeting more gay guys, this was the dawn of online dating and it sure made it easier in a small town and city. All these guys ended up being romantic acquaintances that got cut off after the fun ran out. I had to leave the country to make my first real gay friend. While living in Mexico City I taught ESL and through the wonders of the universe one of my co-workers was gay and proud. He didn’t date white guys, and I’d never been so happy to be thrust into the friend zone. He took me out, got me meeting people and within a month, I had a group of queer friends from all over the spectrum. For the first time since I had come out 4 years before, I was interacting with my community in a platonic sense.

When I moved back to Canada a year later, I lost that sense of community, but it had changed me. I found that while I was back in my small city where online was the only way to meet people, I had started to attract more accepting folk into my life. They were all straight and mostly women, but they gave me that sense of an accepting community back. Over the years, I made a couple gay friends through theatre work and working for Starbucks, but most of them I ended up sleeping with and it always changed the dynamic detrimentally. I missed having a friend who was just a friend but was the same as me.

About 6 years ago, I moved to Edmonton and it might as well have been San Francisco for all the wonder I felt. All of a sudden there was a plethora of gay men who were out and proud. Quickly, I was going on dates with people who I couldn’t play six degrees of separation with. We could go out and remain friends if we didn’t connect and even one or two guys were strictly platonic friends. I started to feel better about this part of myself and safer in a community, even though it was small and I still felt very disconnected from it.

Moving to the city on my own of course meant working a lot to get by. Though I had volunteered for many years, I found I didn’t have the time to get involved with anything here in the city outside of my work and a small social life. When I discovered the gay scene here and discovered a thriving community with all the colours of the rainbow I finally felt a small amount of the joy my year in Mexico had given me and I ached to integrate myself into the culture of Edmonton queer life. A few years ago I attended my first Pride parade. I almost always had to work on the days it happened every year, the joys of working retail, but finally I was able to go and I simply loved what I saw.

This past year, with a life more stable I committed myself to getting involved and where better to go than the very celebration of our community. I joined the Edmonton Pride Festival Society and when the opportunity to volunteer came I grabbed on and got going. The experience has been one that is truly uplifting, enlivening and empowering for me. To be involved with a group that is responsible for bringing the community together and helping us celebrate our truth has been an honour. Putting together the festival has taught me so much I didn’t know about the community and myself. Interacting with community leaders who care and have a passion for trying to make the entire queer family be able to feel their Pride has changed me and made me a better member of the queer Edmonton community.

I know I’m not alone and that many people in the Capital region may feel the same way I did a year ago. I know there are people who love our community and this family we have created but may feel they are on the sidelines, much like I did. For those people I would like to encourage you to carve out an opportunity to get involved with the Festival. June can be a busy month and time is precious to many of us, but if you can spare a few hours, a day or even a few days to take part in putting on Pride, I know you will get out of it much more than it requires of you. There are so many chances to do something fun and become a part of the team. Our beverage gardens, the parade, the different areas of Pride In The Park all need people to help put on a party and bring our community together to celebrate and learn.

If you find yourself wanting to take part I encourage you to do it! Sign up as a volunteer, show your Pride by taking part in our community’s celebration and have one hell of a time! If you can’t find an opportunity to volunteer then come out and spend some time enjoying the Festival. There are so many chances to celebrate and party as well as learn things about other parts of our big family that maybe you didn’t know. Either way, I hope to see you there and I hope you find as much joy in our celebration as I and the other volunteers making it happen do in giving this to you, our community, our family.

If this inspires you to volunteer for Pride this year apply here!