Ms. Fondle, seen here at the Prince George Pride Parade, will be the parade marshal for the inaugural Rainbow Parade to open ArtsWells Friday, Aug. 2 at 7 p.m. Photo courtesy of Philomena Hughes

Singing drag queen Ms. Fondle will lead the first-ever ArtsWells Rainbow Parade Aug. 2

Parade being organized in partnership with Quesnel, Williams Lake, Prince George Pride organizations

Ever since its first year, the ArtsWells Festival’s Opening Parade has always been a colourful tradition to kick off the four-day event, and this year, the colours are sure to shine even brighter.

ArtsWells is collaborating with Quesnel, Williams Lake and Prince George Pride associations to present the festival’s first Rainbow Parade Friday, Aug. 2 at 7 p.m. in Wells.

The parade is an opportunity to kick off the Aug. 2-5 festival and ensure everyone feels safe and welcome.

Ms. Fondle from Prince George, one of the few drag queens who actually sings when she performs, will be the inaugural Rainbow Parade Marshal. She will be joined by Vancouver band Babyface Brass.

Ms. Fondle’s alter-ego, Wil Fundal — who identifies as a non-binary person and prefers the “they/them” pronouns instead of “he/him” — says they were a bit unsure when they were first asked to lead the parade because it’s such a big job.

“I’d never been asked to be a parade marshal, I had no idea what a parade marshal would do, so I said ‘let me think about it,’” they said. “I did some researching and thought ‘oh my goodness, being a parade marshal seems like a very high-profile, very important job,’ and I actually had to speak to some of my friends to say ‘is this what I want to do? This is kind of scary.’ Ms. Fondle has never done anything like this.

“And then it made me think about Pride parades and what it means to me and what it means to many people — and then I thought, ‘you know what? Wouldn’t it be an honour to be able to attend a Pride parade for the first time and a parade for the first time in a community like Wells and Barkerville.’”

Fundal says being asked to be the parade marshal reminded them of when they marched in their first Pride parade in Prince George in 2016.

“It was essentially my coming out party,” they said. “It was the first time that Ms. Fondle was born. It was my very first Pride parade that I had marched in. It reminded me very much of that in Prince George, and it made me feel very honoured and proud to be able to do something like that in Wells.”

Ultimately, the potential to be an example to someone who might be feeling scared or unsure about coming out or being their true self made Fundal overcome their fear and say yes to this opportunity.

“Doing something so high-profile or something important is, I think, naturally scary for me, but then it made me think about why parades are there,” they said. “I’ve had lots of discussions and arguments with people about why parades are important or why the Pride parade specifically is important, and for me, I guess it was a way for me to be a leader, or to show people out there who might be too scared to come out that it’s OK, that people are there who will support you.

“I wanted to show that it doesn’t matter whether you’re in rural Canada or in a place like Metro Vancouver — there are people who are part of the LGBTQ+ spectrum who are loud and proud, and I wanted to show people who might be too scared to be out or to be comfortable being themselves that there are people out there who support them. And that sort of helped abate some of my fears.

“If there was just one person in the crowd or one person who identifies as being part of the LGBTQ+ spectrum who’s too scared to come out and sees Ms. Fondle and says ‘oh, OK, Ms. Fondle is loud and proud — maybe it is OK for me to be myself,’ then my purpose has been served. This why I am doing it and why I am getting over my fears of being at the front of the parade or being the leader of the parade.”

Fundal feels this Rainbow Parade is really an extension of the diversity and inclusion that is already a big part of ArtsWells.

“From the performers to the participants, I’ve always found ArtsWells to be quite diverse — and I think this recognizes the diversity of all of the people, from the performers to the participants, because this is just another thing to show that we’re all here to enjoy ourselves, to express ourselves, to hear great music and to show our love for one another,” they said.

The ArtsWells Rainbow Parade is free, and there is no entry fee to participate. Festival-goers young and old are encouraged to bring whatever outfit they want and a musical instrument so they can join in with the band. There will even be a chance to make your own instruments out of found objects earlier in the day with renowned performer Al Simmons, and his theatrical cohorts; Tomas Kubinek and Peter Paul Van Camp.

Sounds Crazy — A Musical Exploration of Everyday Items is a two-hour workshop for children aged seven to 10 that will be held from 1-3 p.m. at Wells-Barkerville Elementary School. Thanks to support from the BC Arts Council, the workshop is only $5 per child. Space is limited, and participants must pre-register at support-imarts.com.

For more information about ArtsWells, visit artswells.com.

READ MORE: The wonderfully weird, musically zany Al Simmons comes to the Cariboo


Lindsay Chung
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