From hiding to Pride

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How one man went from being bullied to hosting Pride in his hometown

Courtesy of backofthebook.ca
Courtesy of backofthebook.ca

Nanaimo Pride Society’s president, Rick Meyers, is no stranger to making the best of any situation. Despite being bullied while growing up in Nanaimo, Meyers has carved himself a place to thrive with active involvement in the city’s queer community.

As a youth growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, Meyers’ effeminate nature sparked school bullying, which impacted his school attendance. “I lived a pretty dark and shallow life,” Meyers says. “I didn’t have any friends, barely made it to school, hid in hallways. And then something changed. I just decided one day that I was worth staying on the planet.”

After this realization Meyers left for what he calls the “gay ghetto” of Vancouver, where he lived for about twelve years, but never forgot about Nanaimo. “I always kept coming home because I’m an Island boy, and I like what the Island has to offer,” he says. “One day I just realized that I needed to go back where I’m happy.”

Since moving home to Nanaimo, Meyers has stepped on-stage as Vikki Smudge, his drag persona. “I was one of the first drag queens to ever perform at The Queens,” Meyers says.

During his first appearance at The Queens hotel, a bystander went from hurling insults at the start of the performance to cheering and singing along near the end of the night. When that happened, Meyers knew he could win Nanaimo over one person at a time.

Fast forward to today, and Meyers is far from being friendless like he was in high school. Walking into The Vault, he is cheerfully greeted by those familiar to him. Sitting at a table beside a window, he is interrupted by multiple acquaintances walking past. He makes kissy faces and waves excitedly to those who stop to say hello through the glass.

“I was born and raised here,” Meyers says. “Got beat up in this town, got beat up right where the rainbow crosswalk is now.”

The rainbow crosswalks in downtown Nanaimo were vandalized in September this year. Meyers says Nanaimo’s LGBTQ+ allies—including Mayor Bill McKay, who ordered a clean-up of the vandalism, and a group who planned via social media to chalk another rainbow crosswalk opposite the vandalized one—showed love and support in that situation.

“The strongest ally is the one that puts themselves in our shoes, and stands up wherever they can,” Meyers says. Meyers also says that Nanaimo’s queer community needs continued support from allies.

Meyers says the most rewarding moment of the 2016 Nanaimo Pride celebration was standing at the end point of the parade at Swy-A-Lana Lagoon, where he saw thousands of parade on-lookers join the end of the parade by tagging behind the last float and marching down the Comox Road hill.

“Next year is Nanaimo Pride Society’s 20 anniversary,” he says. “So I think [Pride] is going to be really huge. I love Pride week… It’s a real powerful thing for me to be involved and to see it grow so much.”