Pride art show in Petersburg


Artwork courtesy of Chelsea Tremblay

The deadline to drop off submissions for this year's Pride art show came and went with the beginning of the week and, as of Monday, organizer Annette Bennett was still hoping to get a piece of art done in time. June is Pride month and Bennett helped establish the event in 2019 with the goal of helping increase visibility of the LGBTQ community on Mitkof Island.

Bennett feels like COVID disrupting life for many people might have temporarily taken some of the wind out of those sails. But they recently heard a story which demonstrates that visibility is growing and complex conversations are taking place.

A community member told Bennett about being at a restaurant where a Pride art show poster was on display. The individual witnessed a "younger school-age kid" ask their parent what the poster meant. After their parent explained it to the youngster, the kiddo went, "I think I'm part of that community."

"It was just a really heartwarming story," Bennett said. "To hear about how this sparked conversation and this kiddo felt safe to share that with their parent."

Ultimately, Bennett believes, by increasing visibility you are increasing opportunity for conversations like this to happen in a safe and thoughtful way. And when this happens-love wins.

Bennett said, it is best for someone that wants to be an "ally," or supporter, of the LGBTQ community to bring an open mind about the subject and try their best to not be judgmental. Especially, if the answer to a question you ask isn't what you thought you wanted to hear.

Also, don't forget it's important when using proper language to have a willingness to mess up, but keep after it. For instance, Bennett prefers the use of the pronouns "they" "them" and "their." Some people may have a hard time adjusting to using those when referring to Bennett rather than-"her" and "she"-at first, but like many other things, a little practice can make a difference.

"Language evolves and we have to remember that it changes and we use things differently, that's part of evolving as humans," they said. "What's important is that if you mess up on someone's pronouns just correct it and move on, don't overly apologize."

One of the biggest influences in the advancement of the local LGBTQ community, in Bennett's mind, was the creation of the "Safe Space" sticker. It quickly became popular and can still be seen on display in multiple businesses around town.

The sticker was the product of a Gay Straight Alliance club at the school and came into existence just before the art show was established. Visitors to the island have told Bennett about how they made them feel welcome. So it's accomplishing its goal and then some.

Prior to COVID, when Bennett was traveling a lot more, they'd often wonder about what kind of an atmosphere they'd find in other communities. Because Bennett understands their feelings of acceptance aren't universally shared. Would the place be welcoming? Would there be resistance?

That's when seeing those two simple words-Safe Space-can make a huge statement, almost like open arms, for those who are looking. And about the only thing more welcoming than reading that, for Bennett, would be the presence of the rainbow flag.

"It really makes a big difference seeing a flag up in a community, it makes me feel safer," Bennett said. "I see a flag or multiple flags it's like, this community cares and they want people to know that this is a safe space."

There will, most likely, be a rainbow or two around the art show. And there will, for sure, be an anonymous submission from an artist that lives out of town. Every year a piece gets submitted this way, Bennett said.

"People who grew up here, but maybe don't live here anymore, still want to participate," they said. "It's great that they want to make sure their hometown is safe for the kids growing up here."

Chelsey Tremblay grew up here and saw how some kids that were "different" went through hell as they got "bullied and kind of tortured," just for being different. But once the kids she's talking about moved away, they were able to come out and start living their "happiest best lives as far away from here as they could possibly get," she said.

Tremblay helped organize this year's art show along with Bennett. She said, it will be a "collage-heavy event," including the one she made with a written companion piece. The inspiration for her art was a quote from Pauli Murray, legendary civil rights activist and legal pioneer.

Born in North

Carolina, Murray was an African-American woman rejected from some schools because of gender and others because of race. Murray was known for dressing androgynously and maintaining short hair. Today, Murray could have been considered androgynous, non-binary or whatever language they preferred, Tremblay said.

"They're actually a really interesting case study," she said. "Because they didn't have the language for the identity they were living."

For her collage, Tremblay used pictures cut out from a Hubble telescope calendar arranged around Murray's words, "You must remember that the truth is our only sword."

The companion piece to the collage reads as follows: "Every burst of light in these images is a different galaxy. A reminder we are all infinite and holy precisely HOW WE ARE. In our imperfect, evolving, Earthly glory. So seize time and find your soul. When the truth has settled in your bones so that it seeps through your skin let the world know and record show WHO YOU ARE."

"I've made some pieces before but this one felt really beautiful to just meditate on, because I really think the most powerful thing is when people take the time to figure out who they truly are and live that way-in freedom," Tremblay said. "And that is what community is all about."

For Bennett, freedom is all about the ability for a person to be "who they truly are." They know the works of Tremblay and other artists that will be displayed at the Clausen Museum represent a step forward in caring for and supporting some of the most vulnerable people living in Petersburg. And that it all, as cliche as it sounds, comes back to-love winning.

"This is really about love," Bennett said. "And that people should have the freedom to love who they love."

There will be a reception held at the museum Saturday night showcasing the art, and the pieces will remain on display until the end of the month.


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