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petti fong What was it like coming of age in Abbotsford?
JOHN KUIPERS I grew up in a religious family. We have a fantastic relationship, but not everyone in my family and their network are as accepting of gender and identity.
pf How does that play out?
jk Some people don’t come to family events. Some do and have their say. I tell them, “Thanks for sharing your thoughts. May I share mine?”
pf I’m sure cooler heads don’t always prevail. What role does religion play in prejudice?
jk There are stereotypes in religious communities. But there are stereotypes in the queer community as well. For a long, long time we didn’t have any youth groups here that weren’t religion-based — but if we can make youth in our community feel at peace, we have taken big steps that can’t be taken back.
pf Hence last year’s Pride parade in the Fraser Valley?
jk We considered it more like a Pride event. We don’t have corporate people here wanting to dress up, or go-go boys on floats. It was about celebrating diversity, celebrating our youth. So, a picnic — that’s very us out here. We had a Pride picnic, and then we continued on with our everyday lives.
pf Were you bullied, attacked when you were growing up?
jk Of course. What I try to teach youth going through that now is that the only thing you can control is your own response. Resilience is something you see in queer youth: they know bad things are going to happen; they believe it can become a positive experience.
pf Did you dream about leaving?
jk Everyone has that idea, but the truth is I’m really happy living in Abbotsford: the green space, neighbours who know each other — I’ve never thought of myself as stuck here.
pf I was surprised that, as someone who has been physically targeted, you still keep the front door of your house wide open.
jk I leave both my front and back doors open all the time. I’d miss the sound of birds too much, and I don’t want to miss it if someone comes by to talk. Closed doors say something, and so does an open door that you can walk through anytime.
John Kuipers, 29, studies social work at the University of the Fraser Valley and manages the Fraser Valley Youth Society (Fraseryouth.com), which will picnic with Pride mid September