A new Telus Originals web series follows the story of the LGBTQ2+ community in small town Alberta. “Small Town Queer” is a locally produced three-part documentary series directed and produced by Laura O' Grady, an award-winning Alberta-based filmmaker. O' Grady shares how compassion and personal stories can explore these thought-provoking narratives from a compelling lens.
“Small Town Queer” dives into the personal challenges and triumphs of southern Alberta interview subjects, as members of their respective LGBTQ2+ communities - as they navigate themes of acceptance, tolerance and freedom.
“Shooting in Medicine Hat and Lethbridge, people were very welcoming. We were able to hire some local crew, which were really great to work with. Some local camera people, makeup artists and photographers. It was great to work with the local creative community in those towns. It was also great to hear all different points of view, not always supportive, but I would say respectful of what we were trying to do,” said O' Grady. “People were quite open-minded on the stories we were trying to tell.”
“I'd love to do another round, but there's three in this first series,” O' Grady added.
One of the interview subjects is a professor at the University of Lethbridge, Jay Whitehead, who teaches Theatre and Dramatic Arts. The third episode, “Conversion,” features three Lethbridge residents (including Whitehead) - as they explore the current conversation surrounding conversion therapy. These champions share their personal stories and experiences living in what is sometimes known as Alberta’s “bible belt.”
Whitehead grew up in a devote Mormon home, where same sex attraction was viewed as sinful. Whitehead made the decision to confess his homosexual feelings to the church and was then subjected to two years of weekly “therapy” sessions in Calgary. He slowly began to realize this mandated therapy was not working and eventually decided therapy, the Mormon church and community was not for him. He left the church and his family and eventually settled in Lethbridge, where he was able to find a community and a path towards healing from the trauma of conversion therapy.
Devon Hargreaves and Jennifer Takahashi are Lethbridge residents on a quest to have conversion therapy banned for minors throughout Canada. Knowing the damage some of these therapies can inflict, Hargreaves and Takahashi are leading the charge to make conversion therapy illegal. Their petition has almost 15,000 signatures.
“I have done other content related to LGBTQ2+ communities, but it's always been in larger centres. The individuals I meet, a lot of them came from smaller towns. I became friendly with them and they related how they really wanted to leave their small town as soon as possible or they didn't feel like they could live openly in the small towns,” O' Grady explained.
“I thought to myself, what about the people who want to live in their small towns? They have family and friends and children in a community. What about those people who are trying to live openly in the smaller centres? That was kind of the idea behind 'Small Town Queer.' To try and find people who were living openly in smaller centres and why they're choosing to do that,” said O' Grady.
It is hoped “Small Town Queer” will build bridges between the LGBTQ2+ community and the wider communities they live in.
“It is my hope someone may identify within the LGBTQ2+ community and would see one of these episodes and realize they're not alone and there are people that have had similar experiences and have come out positively on the other side. It can be quite an isolating thing for people that don't live openly and just to spur dialogue for people to see their neighbours as who they are – their neighbours, regardless of their sexual or gender orientation,” O' Grady noted.
“Small Town Queer” is available on Telus Optik TV and the StoryHive YouTube channel.