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Drag queen promotes acceptance and inclusion at Vancouver Island schools

Drag is a healing journey for Port Alberni resident
Miss Frida (Nik Burton) leads the Alberni Elementary School Pride parade on Monday, May 30, 2022. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

A Port Alberni-based drag queen has been spreading a message of love and acceptance to schools in the Alberni Valley during Pride Month.

Nik Burton first started doing drag at a Canada Day parade in 2016.

“I was hooked from then,” said Burton, who uses they/them pronouns.

Dressed as the drag queen Miss Frida, Burton led a Pride parade around Alberni Elementary School in the first week of June this year. Students waved Pride flags and danced to music while Frida painted their nails.

The Pride week event was organized by the school’s SAFE club (Student Allies for Equality) and teacher Jessica Hall, who is the school’s SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) representative. In British Columbia, SOGI is not a curriculum, but a suggested teaching resource to support marginalized LGBTQ2+ students and to create safer and more inclusive school environments. Hall’s job is to support her colleagues when it comes to integrating SOGI into school curriculum. As the teacher librarian, Hall also makes sure the school carries inclusive literature for students.

Other events during Alberni Elementary’s Pride week included a school dance and a bubble dance party at recess.

“We had a lot of fun,” said Hall.

Hall was the one who first reached out to Burton in 2021 about paying a visit to the school. She knew Burton from their role in the Portal Players Dramatic Society. The Pride event in 2021 went so well that both Hall and Burton decided to do it again this year.

“It’s really rewarding to be able to interact with the kids,” said Burton.

Also in 2022, Burton visited Alberni District Secondary School (ADSS) as Frida for the first time to run an acting workshop. A singer, actor and comedian, Burton has dreams of one day making it onto Canada’s Drag Race.

Burton says that the experience at ADSS was a cathartic one.

“[High school] was a place of pain for me, historically,” they said. “This would have been impossible when I was younger. Seeing these kids, how far they’ve come, has been so incredible. They were so excited and happy.”

Burton had some good experiences in high school, but also said they were “bullied relentlessly” in their teen years, by both students and teachers. Revisiting the high school as Frida has been healing.

“That’s me saying ‘You don’t have power over me,’” said Burton.

A natural-born performer, Burton has been interested in drag for years. As an Indigenous Mexican, Burton wanted to pay homage to their culture and chose the name “Frida Kahl Ho” as a cheeky reference to the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. While performing at the schools, Burton goes by “Frida” or “Miss Frida” instead.

All-age drag events have been under fire lately from critics who believe drag shows aren’t appropriate for children. Earlier this month, a Victoria all-ages drag show for Pride month was cancelled after a phone call threatening violence.

But Burton likens drag to going to the movies—some movies are kid-friendly, but there are also some films that aren’t appropriate for children to watch.

“In those instances when children are involved, drag queens make sure that they’re wearing things that are modest, they’re being nice and they’re not using vulgarities,” Burton said. “It’s more of an artistic experience.”

For Burton, visiting the schools as Frida is about spreading a message of acceptance and inclusion and showing students that they can be their own authentic selves.

“For me, personally, it’s healing,” said Burton. “But it’s also to help show inclusion and diversity in a town that doesn’t show that all the time. Exposure to culture is something that’s super important.”

Pride Month is winding down in Canada, but Burton wants to see people take the messages of Pride month into their everyday lives.

“I love spreading a message of love,” said Burton. “The world is in a really dark place right now. We need to be kind to ourselves, because right now everyone’s going through a lot.”

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Miss Frida (Nik Burton) paints nails at Alberni Elementary School for Pride Week activities. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Elena Rardon

About the Author: Elena Rardon

I have worked with the Alberni Valley News since 2016.
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