The Mt. Atkinson Community Centre brings together two parts of our organisation as Edmund Rice Community Services. Edmund Rice Services Mt. Atkinson (ERSMA) and Edmund Rice Community and Refugee Services (ERCRS) are both based out of the Centre. This IDAHOBIT they came together to design a project that will create a sense of safety, inclusion, and progressive discussion for all individuals who visit Mt. Atkinson. This project was a Pride Tree.
Kristen Barker is a Program Officer at Edmund Rice Services Mt. Atkinson. She shares her personal story below about The Pride Tree project and what it means to her:
ERSMA and ERCRS hold an inclusive practice at the forefront of every program. Alongside this, we hope to deepen our inclusive roots as an organisation and extend this across all of Edmund Rice Community Services. This project is known as, The Pride Tree. It is broken up into 6 bright, fun but meaningful colours, with each colour representing an aspect of LGBTQI+ pride:
However, before the importance of representation, the significance of The Pride Tree and the effects pride can have in our workplace and programs is unpacked, I believe it is important that I share how this project came about and why it holds such importance.
In February 2022, I had just taken on my new role at Edmund Rice Services-Mt. Atkinson when Mark Monahan (Mt. Atkinson’s Executive Officer) and I were discussing decorating a tree along the Community Centre’s driveway. Throughout this discussion, Mark brought up the idea about painting a rainbow tree with genuine excitement. He explained how he hoped it would create a feeling of welcome and safety for everyone, as they entered the community centre. Of course, I agreed with this and shared the same excitement for this project, but within that conversation it gave me a sense of safety within my working relationship with Mark and my team (who would soon share the same excitement).
He hoped it would create a feeling of welcome and safety for everyone.
Making this project happen was significant to me, as even the slightest piece of representation can change how an individual feels and acts in a new environment. Growing up there were little to none tokens of representation in my world, I never came across someone with a rainbow pin or a shop with an inclusion sign. I went to a Christian-focused school where being gay was considered a sin, if you fell out of the heteronormative expectations you were bound to harassment, the word ‘gay’ was negatively thrown around, like it was going out of fashion and any conversation around the progression in LGBTQI+ rights were silenced. I remember having continuous debates with my religion teacher, as I just couldn’t understand how they considered themselves a compassionate follower of Christ but believed a queer person did not deserve the same rights, due to simply loving another person. Through all this, my identity was silenced, and I lived a life that wasn’t mine, as it just was simply not safe to be me.
Growing up there were little to none tokens of representation in my world.
It wasn’t until I graduated from high school and flew 14,000kms across the ocean, before I entered a safe space for the first time. I had just arrived at an outdoor education camp in Fallis AB Canada, where I planned to spend the next 4 months volunteering as a camp counsellor, when I noticed something on another counsellor’s bag. It very small but incredibly significant; a rainbow pin. This pin gave me the confidence to be myself without fear of judgement or ridicule and due to this new confidence, my identity was celebrated by those around me. Although, this was such a positive part of my coming out story, entering a new environment still isn’t easy and it isn’t easy for many queer individuals or even their allies.
This common experience became evident recently, during a conversation with my colleague Georgia. We were discussing what a great experience painting The Pride Tree was and how we hope it will break down barriers for the young people we work with. Within this conversation, we discussed the anxieties of entering a new work environment and how we don’t share our stories, until we know those around us will be accepting. Although Georgia is open and proud of having two mums and proudly claims her ‘rainbow baby’ title, she too feels the need to understand her environment first. She said that “I am very open about my family; however, the conversation never came about for me to be able to talk about my mums”.
This is why representation matters and why IDAHOBIT matters. Celebrating IDAHOBIT and designing a project with a purpose, has already given so much back to ERSMA and ERCRS. It created a space for open conversation between team members to share their own stories and for the team to learn more about each other. Furthermore, it created an opportunity for one of our same-sex couples, to work together with their children to add colour to The Pride Tree. Throughout their painting they listened to the song they plan to have their first dance together and discussed how they were excited to have their wedding pictures taken in front of The Pride Tree, when they get married onsite this September.
It created a space for open conversation between team members to share their own stories and for the team to learn more about each other.
Without IDAHOBIT and without this project, I believe these exchanges would have struggled to occur and many conversations that will follow may never happen. I am grateful for Mark’s idea and for the position I am in, as I get to be the representation I needed when I was younger and create a space for other LGBTQI+ individuals to feel protected and free to be their authentic selves.
Our thanks to Kristen for sharing her story with us. Click below to watch the Mt Atkinson Pride Tree being painted.