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History of Surrey’s Pride activism revealed in ‘landmark’ exhibit, including book and travel bans

‘Surrey is often viewed as this redneck community, but really there’s been a lot of progress here’
Jen Marchbank, left, and Sylvie Traphan worked to showcase the history of Surrey Pride at the Museum of Surrey, in Cloverdale. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

The history of Pride activism in Surrey is now showcased at the Museum of Surrey, thanks to the collection efforts of Jen Marchbank and Sylvie Traphan and others.

Launched June 7, the Show and Share exhibit is a “landmark” one for Surrey’s LGBTQ+ community, according to Marchbank.

“It’s a wide audience here at the museum, and it’s here for three months,” she said of the Pride display.

“It’s a prominent location in the museum, too,” Marchbank added. “This is the 23rd year of Surrey Pride. Some people don’t know that – some don’t know Surrey even has Pride, and it’s been here since 1999 onward. It’s important for all communities of Surrey to be represented in their city facilities.”

The 2022 Surrey Pride Festival is this Saturday, June 25 on the north plaza at Central City Shopping Centre, featuring live music, drag and lip-sync performances from 4 to 9 p.m.

At the museum in Cloverdale, the Pride showcase sheds light on Surrey LGBTQ+ history, milestone moments including book and travel bans, and info about key organizations in Surrey. Displayed are T-shirts and other pieces of clothing, posters, newspaper stories, awards, key documents, old festival posters and more.

“That’s quite possibly the shirt I wore at Surrey Pride in 2013,” Marchbank said with a laugh.

“This video,” she added, pointing to a monitor on the wall, “is of Surrey’s virtual Pride Festival in 2020.”


Married since 2008, Marchbank and Traphan have been involved in Surrey Pride and other organizations in the city since the mid-2000s.

“Surrey is often viewed as this redneck community, but really there’s been a lot of progress here,” Traphan noted.

“When I first came to Canada,” Marchbank added, “colleagues would ask me, ‘You’re a lesbian, why would you live in Surrey?’ Well, I was working at the Surrey campus (of SFU), I’m hardly going to live downtown (Vancouver), and I have a small child. That was a great decision to me, because I love this city.”

In 1999, the first gay dance held in Surrey raised money to fight a Surrey School Board decision to ban three books deemed inappropriate for young kids. The ensuing legal battle went to the Supreme Court of Canada, where Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin noted, “Tolerance is always age-appropriate.”

Almost a decade later, on Remembrance Day 2007, at a time when the U.S. banned HIV-positive people from entering the country, Surrey resident Martin Rooney was interrogated and sent back to Canada. He then led a three-year fight to have the ban lifted, which happened in 2010. Rooney is the current president of Surrey Pride – again, after several years in that role.

“The book ban and the travel ban, those are two key things in our history here,” said Marchbank, professor in SFU’s Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. In May, she won a 2022 YWCA Women of Distinction Award in the category of Education, Training & Development.

The Pride showcase also highlights the activities of Sher Vancouver and Empire of the Peace Arch Monarchist Association (EPAMA), the latter of which involves a mannequin in full Emperor/Empress regalia with ceremonial sword, in the museum lobby.

Pride Month in Surrey continues this week with a screening of the film “Nelly Queen: The Life and Times of Jose Sarria,” on Thursday, June 23 at SFU Surrey, 6:30 p.m. start. “Sarria was a WW2 veteran, a cabaret performer, a political activist, and the first out candidate for public office in 1961 all BEFORE Stonewall,” says a post on, where people can register to attend the free event. “He was one of the founding fathers of the LGBT+ community and has been called our community’s own Rosa Parks.”

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Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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