Qualicum Beach Coun. Robert Filmer says he has an important message to share.
Filmer, 22, is the first openly gay councillor in the town and wants young people in the community to know they have someone to turn to.
Filmer said it wasn’t easy growing up in a small, ‘old-fashioned’ town as a gay person and wants to ensure more moves are made toward inclusiveness.
“I know people that have come out in the community say 20 or 25 years ago and they moved out of town,” he said.
“They didn’t finish high school, they didn’t finish school and they moved across the country and they won’t move back and it’s just because of that stigma that is still there and those memories. That’s what I want to try and get rid of.”
Filmer said he made the decision to discuss the issue publicly after realizing the weight it could have in the community. He points to Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson coming out last year as another motivator.
“When they have someone that sits in their elected office and says, ‘this is me, this is who I am and it’s OK’, that’s the message that I want,” he said.
Filmer wants to start making more moves within council to acknowledge and support the local LGBTQ2S+ community. He said a good first step within council was to put in the rainbow crosswalk in on Village Way in front of Kwalikum Secondary School, a motion he brought forward.
However, it wasn’t without blowback. The crosswalk was vandalized with a mysterious black substance in August 2019 and Filmer said he got numerous complaints from residents.
He remembers one email that said there was “no place for this in Qualicum Beach.” He said it hurt politically, as well as personally.
“That was a huge push for Qualicum Beach. The amount of emails and phone calls I got that were against it – it did come to me as a shock because I didn’t think we still had that in Qualicum Beach,” he said. “I’ve been having some discussions with people in the community – it’s become quite clear to me that that wasn’t enough, so I thought how could I make this more personal.”
In addition, he said a formal acknowledgement of Pride Month would be a good step. June is Pride Month — something the town doesn’t officially celebrate or recognize.
“We do youth days, we do senior days,” he said. “And even though it may not be being in our community, it would still mean something.”
Filmer said he would also like to see more local supports for LGBTQ2S+ youth in the area, something that he felt was lacking while growing up.
“When you don’t have those support groups, you don’t have the support at home… and you can’t just be yourself,” said Filmer. “Luckily, I didn’t face those types of challenges, but my heart really goes out to especially the youth that do face those challenges on a daily basis.”
Ultimately, Filmer hopes him talking about being gay will help someone in the community feel less alone.
“I say to everyone that my door is always open, and even though I still have my own personal struggles, and everyone does, it’s just being able to talk,” he said. “And if I can at least help one person talk about it or be who they want to be, then I’ve done my job and I’ve done it well, and that’s a really important piece for me.”