Last week Jessica Hanks was surprised to receive an anonymous letter following her Grand Prize win of the City of Wetaskiwin’s Canada Day decorating contest. The letter proclaimed that Hanks was representing “the ‘sick’ portion of our society”, in her decorations because Hanks had a Pride flag hanging on her fence.
Following immense support from the community online, Hanks decided to respond to the letter by displaying the Pride flag in a much grander way.
On one of Hanks’ Facebook posts regarding the letter her sister, Stephanie LeBrocq, commented her husband’s suggestion that Hanks should paint her fence rainbow to show the anonymous letter writer that their words could not deter the push for inclusivity in Wetaskiwin, and in Hanks’ own home.
The idea “took off like wildfire,” says LeBrocq. Community members volunteered to supply paint and come help transform Hanks’ fence into a massive display of Pride, July 26, 2020.
LeBrocq says that when she heard about the letter sent to her sister, “I was livid.” It struck home for her because, “my daughter is also bisexual,” she says. “It really hurt to see that people still have that kind of hate.”
Approximately 45 people filtered in during the early afternoon Sunday to lend a hand painting the Hanks’ fence. Everyone participating wore masks, social distanced as they painted, and used the hand sanitizer provided to follow AHS recommendations.
Included in the volunteer painters was Wetaskiwin City Councillor, Gabrielle Blatz Morgan. Blatz-Morgan read about Hanks’ experience on Facebook and knew that she wanted to get involved to show her support for the LGBTQ2S+ community.
No one should ever feel targeted or discriminated against because of who they are and who they love,” says Blatz-Morgan. “I wanted to show my support with the rest of the community.”
Blatz-Morgan is taking her mission for inclusivity in Wetaskiwin one step farther than her time painting at the Hanks’. At the July 20, 2020 City Council meeting, she introduced a motion for a Citywide inclusivity campaign.
Blatz-Morgan says that previous to the July 20 meeting, she had been receiving letters from First Nations residents of Wetaskiwin who have experienced forms of discrimination while out in public.
“I attended a pipe ceremony the following week to dedicate the new Peace Cairn location, and the elders mainly spoke about how we need to work harder on tackling racism in our community,” says Blatz-Morgan. “During this time was when Jessi Hanks received the letter discriminating against the LGBTQ2S+ community, and Chevi Rabbit had a terrible encounter with hurtful homophobic remarks at a local food establishment. After receiving this information, I knew I needed to do something.”
The proposed inclusivity campaign is aimed at providing education and awareness around discrimination of any kind, a way to make Wetaskiwin more inclusive. “I truly believe this will pave the way for positive change in Wetaskiwin,” she says.
One area that was a hub of inclusivity was Hanks’ back yard during the fence painting. Hanks says that the LGBTQ2S+ youth that volunteered, many with Sexual and Gender Awareness Wetaskiwin (SAGA), were thrilled to participate.
“You could just hear how happy they were,” says Hanks. “These kids worked really hard on it.” Hanks said that because of all the volunteers and the enthusiasm and hard work of the youth that the fence was finished in well under an hour.
Hanks’ says what meant the most to her that day was not only the vast community support she received, but the happiness that she could see in the youth there. She explains that it was enlightening to hear the stories from the kids about all the times when they felt they couldn’t be themselves, but there in Hanks’ yard they were excited to do just that, and to help paint something that represented them in a permanent way.
“My yard is super-charged,” says Hanks’ regarding the finished fence, its colours bold and bright. “My fence is an embodiment of love.”
Hanks donated the leftover paint to SAGA to use for future Pride projects, including the annual Pride crosswalk painting in Wetaskiwin.