Featuring: John Darras, Delta Pride Society
"Delta Pride has received very heartwarming feedback — and not just from folx under the 2SLGBTQ+ umbrella, but also the wider community at large.”
Pride represents the promotion of self-affirmation, dignity, equality, and increased visibility of two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people as a social group. With its roots in protest and many of today’s iterations joyfully opposing shame and social stigma, Pride is a global movement. Having pride and freedom to be who you are is the predominant outlook that bolsters most 2SLGBTQ+ rights movements; in Delta, the rainbow flag is proudly displayed during Pride Month each June. Delta Pride started five years ago in response to a mom of an 2SLGBTQ+ kid posting on the Ladner's Landing Facebook page; when she asked if there were any events or resources in South Delta, many people responded with ‘nos,’ but there was also an outpouring of community support. That’s when a small group of passionate people decided it was time to establish a local organization, and the Delta Pride Society was formed. After connecting with John Darras, original member and president of the Delta Pride Society, we're more than ready to yell ‘Bingo!’ and cheer on drag performers at the organization's annual Delta Pride Picnic each summer.
June is Pride Month; how does Delta Pride celebrate?
Because the city is celebrating Pride Month like everybody else, there’ll be a flag-raising at City Hall, and the school board already has their flag up. The Delta Police display a rainbow Pride flag and the pink, blue and white trans flag. This year — for the first time — the City of Delta will also be displaying banners along the main entrances to Ladner, Tsawwassen, and North Delta, as a demonstration that all are welcome here. This is a huge step for our beloved city.
Although June is Pride Month, we pick late August for our main event because we don't want to clash with anybody else, plus the weather in the Lower Mainland's usually better then. It's sort of a catch-as-catch-can situation in June, crossing your fingers and toes and hoping that it's not going to rain. Late August is usually better.
Our event is for people to come and celebrate, to realize that they're not the only ones, and that we have lots of 2SLGBTQ+ folx and allies in our small-knit little community here. We’ll also have resource tables and things of that sort, like Pflag, QMUNITY, and Covenant House to support people who may need help. Plus, corporate sponsors participate to show they support the community. We've had some wonderful support from a few of our local businesses, like Pure Sunfarms, Envision Financial, and Boca Grande Donut Shop, too. The community has been really good that way.
Could you tell us a little more about the Delta Pride Picnic?
What can people expect?The original Delta Pride Picnic was during an election year, so we had quite a few dignitaries come out and speak, as well as the Delta Police and representation from a couple of other organizations. Mostly it was just a social gathering of 2SLGBTQ+ and allies. We asked the City if we could use Memorial Park and we had games and music and food. There were crafts and things for the kids, too; it was basically a family-orientated social gathering. Our second year was bigger and better. We had the Pride Ambulance and a Delta Fire Department fire engine done up with Pride decals, for example.Last year, we had our first food truck, and our first formal entertainment — Myria LeNoir, who is a legend in the drag community here in the Lower Mainland, performed, as did Justin Abit, a local drag king. We also had a dance troupe perform. Four Winds Brewing and the Pork Mafia food truck were there, as was the fire department with their Pride decorated fire truck again. Every year keeps getting a little bit bigger and better. This year, we're hoping to have more entertainment and more food trucks and things of that sort. We want to expand our footprint, so to speak. We’re hoping that we can plan a parade à la Vancouver Pride that ends up at the picnic, so we'll be working with the City and the police department to see if we have the resources and capabilities to throw something like that together at this point in time. If not, the picnic will just be a slightly bigger version of our usual event. Like I said, it’s mostly a family-orientated social gathering, so it's pretty casual, but every year it seems to get a little better.
Vancouver Pride has a big presence; do you think it was about time something came to Delta?
Yeah, I think so — and that's sort of what the impetus was. We had nothing out here. I mean, a lot of us do migrate to Vancouver for Pride or, for example, I've gone to New West Pride a couple of times. We've been invited to the Surrey Pride event, too. These other communities have Pride, so why can't we? That's one of the reasons we picked late August: so we don't clash with other events. This way, people from other areas can also attend our Pride, but it's geared mostly for Delta residents.
I moved here to Ladner when I was nine, so all of my growing up years, including elementary and high school, were here. I'll be 60 next year, and at the time when I was growing up, being gay wasn't something you spoke about; or you spoke about it in hushed tones and you were bullied for it. That was sort of the takeaway impression I had of Ladner: a small town, and a sort of redneck farming community. But when I first saw that Facebook post, there was a lot of online support and positive feedback from the community — and not just from folx under the 2SLGBTQ+ umbrella, but the wider community. It was actually quite heartwarming and basically mind-blowing for somebody like me. I've heard similar reactions from other folx who are around my age, too.
Most of us had to wait before coming out. You know, once you're living independently, without relying on parents or other caregivers, it's a little bit easier to come out, because it's safer. If the worst happens and you're disowned, you need to support yourself. And if you're a student at university or elsewhere and then all of a sudden you're disowned and your funding is cut off, that’s a really big roadblock that you have to manage to get around. So once you get to that point as an individual where you’re self-sufficient rather than reliant, it's a safer time to come out. It doesn't mean that there's no fallout, but at least there’s not an immediate threat to your lifestyle and livelihood.
We’ve come a long way from when I was growing up, but recently there was discussion in the local Facebook group about a trans child who was about 12 or 13 being treated very differently and basically exiled from the church they were going to — they were sort of disinvited, if I can say it that way. This was in 2019 or so, so it still happens. It happens less, thankfully, but that kind of discrimination isn’t an unknown thing and that’s why it’s so important to have a community pressence.
What are you doing to create change within South Delta during Pride Month and year-round?
I'm part of the Delta Mayor's Task Force on Diversity, Inclusion and Equity. So I'm one of the people who add a 2SLGBTQ+ voice to that group. We have representatives from quite a few visible and invisible minorities; together, we help give feedback and guidance to the Mayor, City Planner, and City Council to help Delta become a more inclusive and supportive community.
We want to include everyone and invite speakers and hold resource nights and other events, like Gay Bingo, in the near future. We’ll be holding one bingo event in North Delta and one in Ladner this month. We want to expand beyond the picnic. Until recently, there were only three board members, so we were kind of limited as to what we could do. We’ve now expanded our board and are planning more things for this year and beyond, including initiatives to raise awareness, starting during Pride Month.
We’ve also done food bank drives and donated to Covenant House, which is a facility in Vancouver that’s a resource for 2SLGBTQ+ kids who have been disowned. It's a safe haven, and a place for them to get their feet under them. There were basically two years of not being able to do much with COVID-19 restrictions kiboshing things and slowing us down, but little by little, we’re ramping up.
Do you have any other initiatives that help identify safe spaces or allies in Delta?
We did a window sticker campaign last year. Bosley's, Stir Coffee House, and Starbucks all had them at their tills, selling them for us as a fundraiser. The stickers came with an information package that explained that if you were putting them up at your business, you were making an agreement; it wasn’t just because you were trying to look good or get business from the community. It actually meant that you were identifying your business as a safe space for 2SLGBTQ+ members of the community. It was meant to show allyship, not only in how people are treated, but as a signal that it was a place that would support you or shelter you from harassment if it was happening. So if you saw the logo — which is our logo — it was an assurance that someone there would support you, get involved, or call the police if necessary.
Speaking of the police, when the Pride flag at the United Church was vandalised — more than once — the DPD were involved in that. So it's important that they're part of what's happening. I find that for the most part South Delta doesn’t have the same negative reaction to the police as many other places do — or at least, nothing as drastic has come up yet. Our police seem to be very involved with the community and want to make sure that everything is as safe as possible. I know the Delta Police are working on a bigger, more robust version of the sticker campaign based on something that was already implemented in Vancouver and I think Seattle. It involves the police officers being educated about the 2SLGBTQ+ community and our needs, as well as a safe space program. They also have a particular window decal that's meant to specifically mark a place as a safe haven for somebody who may be feeling threatened. Their program has training that goes with the decal; ours was a simpler version, but we’ll have a more robust version coming out. We're hopeful that the community vendors and businesses will be willing to take on the training and responsibilities.
You've been on board from the beginning; what's kept you involved all this time? And what’s the makeup of the rest of the board?
I wish . . . how do I say this? I wish the organization that we have now was around when I was growing up. And being able to do that for people coming up, that's sort of what's keeping me here — at least for the time being. In the beginning I was the only actual 2SLGBTQ+ person on the board; the other three were allies. We have a few more on the board now who actually identify under that umbrella. Of the seven board members, at least three of us are 2SLGBTQ+.
A few of the board members are parents of kids that fall under the 2SLGBTQ+ community or are on other variant spectrums, so they're resources unto themselves, but they also are very aware of other resources that they can forward to those who may need the services of these organizations. These are places like Covenant House, The Trevor Project, PFlag, and many, many others. One of our board members is part of an organization called the Mama Bears, which is a network of parents of 2SLGBTQ+ kids; they advocate very strongly for their children just as a mama bear would for her cub. The mama bear in our community can connect other parents with all kinds of resources through that organization’s extensive network.
One of our members-at-large is a constable who was our original DPD liaison; they’ve now moved on, but they’re still involved with the board. And we have a new liaison officer to further connect us with the DPD, which has been an important connection for us right from the start, as I mentioned earlier.
We may be just one organization, but we are supported by many. We are inclusive and our message remains that we are part of your community. We have always been part of your community, even though you may not have known that we were here. We have families, just like you. We live our lives, just like you. We are not really that much different and we want to live as a harmonious community with our neighbours. For anyone who feels like they don’t have support, we are here for them. I mean, we've had kids reach out who've been disowned by their families; in one instance the mama bear I was telling you about stepped in and helped figure out where this young person was going to go. From what I understand, they did a wonderful job; I wasn't involved personally because it's not something I have expertise in, but I’m proud of our organization for stepping up. So the message is: we're here for you if you need us, and we'll do our best to help.