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Beyond Our Edges: Ian Roth – Using His Voice to Inspire Compassion and Understanding

Ian Roth is a Professional Engineer working as a member of the Transportation Planning team in Kelowna. Although his work keeps him very busy, as an openly gay man, he is a strong an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and is dedicating some of his free time to making sure there is space for open conversations both within Urban Systems and without. He shares his thoughts on what that means to him, as well as what inspired him to develop a Lunch and Learn for his colleagues. 

What inspired the Lunch and Learn? 

The whole idea around this lunch and learn came from a few conversations I had last year. I sent out an email to the Kelowna and Kamloops offices titled, “My take on the relevance of PRIDE and what it means”, and the response to it surprised me. It revealed how much there is a need to talk more about diversity in terms of sexual and gender identity and LGBTQ+ issues in general and to spread some info about that. I received a couple dozen emails and had a number of follow-up conversations with people who felt there was a need to talk about that more. So that’s what inspired me last year to get some resources organized and host a lunch and learn this year. 

Why have you taken the lead on it? 

Some people I spoke to following that email were pretty open about the struggles they’ve had, whether through their child or someone in their family or even themselves, where they’re not necessarily living as open with their true selves at Urban. 

I’m an openly gay man and don’t hide it, and I think because of that, I feel like I have a bit of a voice that I can use to spread some education and knowledge and understanding around the key issues and challenges that the LGBTQ+ community faces. 

Have you always been a voice for the LGBTQ+ community? 

Ian and the Urban Team participating in a branch fundraiser for the YMCA Cycle for Strong Kids

When I moved from Port Coquitlam to Kelowna for University, I did get involved at UBC Okanagan with different events and activities in the LGBTQ+ community. I started an event there called Stereotype on the Runway, during which several peers of mine changed their appearance to represent a typical stereotype that is represented in commercial media and society. That event was targeted at providing information to students and university staff about breaking down societal stereotypes and encouraging compassion and acceptance for people as who they are and not based on a label. The event was such a success, it went on for 3 more years, even though I had graduated by that time. 

Nowadays, my husband and I tend to participate in local events and fundraisers and contribute in different ways in Kelowna. I’m not really involved with just one organization because my work keeps me quite busy. That being said, I would like to be more involved with the YMCA and the Okanagan PRIDE society. 

Since coming to Urban I have been able to be more involved in the community through Urban Systems and the Urban Systems Foundation. I do think a little more about getting involved with an organization directly, but the opportunities that have come available through Urban have been very meaningful. 

What makes now the perfect time to start a conversation at Urban Systems? 

Ian at the Stonewall Inn in NYC

With our latest company strategy, we’ve identified Diversity as a strategic objective of moving forward and I believe it’s a good opportunity to have this discussion. All of conversations we have had really helped to build momentum to running this lunch and learn and then seeing what we can do more this year and in future years to support diversity. 

A part of the lunch and learn is to tell a narrative and a story about where LGBTQ+ issues have come from and what that movement has looked like, going all the way back to the Stonewall riots, coming to present day and speaking about the relevance of that today. I’ll even examine what PRIDE really means as an emotion, and why it relates to all of us. It would be great to see all of our offices acknowledge the diversity of gender and sexual minorities, because there are so many ways of identifying. 

What do you hope people take away from the presentation? 

One of the key outcomes I’m hoping for is that we can have more of a coordinated approach among all of our offices to celebrate PRIDE within Urban Systems and outside in our communities, and just to bring more awareness to that. We’ve been really great at supporting events at a number of our offices, and it would be even better if we can get to a place where every community celebrates it. 

The message that we’re trying to convey is that we’re living in a time where we, as Canadians, enjoy a lot of freedom and a lot of rights – we’re a diverse nation, we should be continuing to support that and not try to push aside feelings that we have about our sexual and gender identities. 

Are there any personal experiences you’re bringing to the conversation? 

Ian and Kelowna office members attending Pink Shirt Day events this year

When I was younger there were challenges because it wasn’t something we talked about as openly as we do now. I think because of that and how every community is different, those challenges and acceptance evolves, too. For me, as I was growing up, I knew my perceptions of sexuality were changing, and I think for everyone it’s a little different how much time that takes. 

But it’s also what I’m observing in the community. We’re now having discussions around sexual identity and gender identity in schools that is a pressing topic right now. Historically many children who know they feel different have not been able to express that openly and having this discussion in schools starts to build compassion and understanding. In a local public-school trustee meeting about BC’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum, there were some vocal opponents, but what was most amazing was that after all these parents spoke, a young child who identifies as transgender got up and spoke to the group saying, “No, I’m transgender and I’m going through this process and it’s important for me to feel accepted and included at school like any other kid.”  

So, having the education for other kids to know that those are completely acceptable ways of identifying makes it a lot less likely that he’s going to get bullied, develop deep feelings of shame, or live a life that lacks truth and passion. In real-life examples like this, we’re still pushing the boundaries and paving the way. 

We hear your husband is running for council this fall. What’s that like? 

Yes! My husband, Loyal Wooldridge, is running for City of Kelowna Council. He’s always been passionate about his community and wants to give back to the place where he grew up. For my part, I’m learning a lot more about the many facets of people that live in our community and the different industries and organizations that they belong to. I’m definitely getting a lot of opportunities to connect and meet with people from across the community and hear about what they feel are the pressing issues in the upcoming municipal elections on October 20th. 

What does it mean to you to bring your Lunch and Learn to all your colleagues at Urban Systems? 

I’m happy to use my voice and put my name and face out there to help bring this conversation forward. I continue to meet people in Urban Systems and the Kelowna community who are still struggling and I think everyone in Urban Systems probably knows at least one person who identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer or any other identity, and I think that’s something to hopefully take away from this all. I’m nervous but really excited to spark the conversation. 

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