Society

A rainbow house beaming with Pride in the face of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes

In the face of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes during Pride month in Alberta, a Lethbridge family explains how they've helped rally a community—and gone viral in the process

A few blocks south of downtown, a Lethbridge family is having a very busy start to the summer. In May, Kim and Mary Siever spent over 25 hours painting their home in the colours of the rainbow. In June during Pride month in Alberta, the Sievers have been receiving hundreds of visitors, greeting them with solidarity and sweets. 

Pride celebrations in the large cities across Canada showcase big parades and bigger crowds. Alberta’s Pride celebrations have always felt a little subdued, and more so in smaller communities. Lethbridge’s rainbow-painted Pride crosswalks are vandalized every year with burn-out tire marks or cattle manure. Similar vandalism has happened elsewhere in Alberta, including Taber’s Pride flag being set on fire twice in one year. The Siever family maintains that acts which celebrate acceptance and lift up queer folks in their community will have to be bolder than the vandalism. 

Kim, an independent journalist and stay-at-home parent, and his spouse Mary, a researcher and scholar, live in the rainbow house with four of their six children. The Sievers live in one of the older neighbourhoods in Lethbridge and have raised their family in this 110-year-old home for more than 16 years. Over the decades, their neighbourhood has become a patchwork of homes of different sizes, from large turreted houses built by judges and mayors, to so-called strawberry box houses built after the Second World War. Even among this eclectic mix of residences, with its bright Pride flag colours painted from top to bottom, the rainbow house stands out.  

Kim & Mary spoke with Maclean’s about their freshly painted home and what kinds of reactions they’ve experienced while showing their pride:

How did the idea to paint your house like a rainbow come about? 

Mary: We’ve needed to paint this house for a very long time; the house needed painting before we bought it. And that was a long time ago! 

Kim: There was a house in the neighbourhood that, every year for pride, the family would colour their steps. I would walk down there with my dog, so we used to see it every day. They had quite a few steps so all the colours of the rainbow fit. We thought it would be nice to do that, but we only have three steps. We decided to paint the entire house with a rainbow. 

Having the exterior of your house go viral on social media makes for a memorable Pride month. What was your relationship to Pride month in years past? 

Kim: It was more of a support and ally-ship role previously, just to try and be supportive of people in the queer community. 

Kim, you came out as queer, yourself, in your community and on social media during the pandemic. Is the Rainbow House a part of that celebration? 

Kim: Yeah, it was during the same month that the province implemented pandemic restrictions, really early on. The restrictions haven’t made it possible to hold public Pride events. This will be my first one. I don’t think the house was necessarily connected to my coming out. It’s already been a couple of years. We were just thinking of the broader community. We want to be able to provide a place of vibrancy and colour and hope. 

What has the response to your Rainbow House been like? 

Kim: We’ve given out over 350 bags of Skittles, and the vast majority of those people are with somebody else, so we estimate we’ve had seven or eight hundred people visit. 

Mary: Large groups, smaller groups, or just a couple of people at a time. 

Kim: On Saturday we had a wedding party on bikes and two dozen wedding guests came by to take pictures in front of the house 

You painted your house in May and began giving out Skittles in June.  

Kim: The Skittles part was specifically for Pride month. We had talked about it in May around the time we started painting. You know, see the rainbow, “taste the rainbow”. 

As the Rainbow House giving out Skittles went viral, you’ve had candy showing up at your door as well. 

Mary: We’ve met so many people. We haven’t asked for Skittles, but we didn’t realize there was going to be this response! Our initial plan to hand out Skittles would have gone well beyond our budgetary ability. 

People have just been so generous, giving anywhere from $5 to $100 to buy Skittles. Just this morning some workers and the vice-president of Black Velvet Distillery dropped off eight boxes of Skittles! 

How does this work? Is your doorbell constantly ringing? 

Kim: Usually they don’t ring the doorbell because we normally notice that there is someone there. Whether it is our dog barking or when Mary is working in her home office with the window open and she hears them. 

Do you engage as soon as you see someone out there? 

Kim: We usually wait and see if they are taking a picture, because that’s when we get the Skittles out.  

Mary: We don’t want to photobomb their pictures! We’re waiting until they are done and then we will come out and say “Hi.” 

Were you hesitant about the location of your home going viral? 

Mary: We didn’t talk about it too much. I mean, it was a little bit of a concern. I don’t usually like to post my address or anything. Our teenagers were nerve-wracked about it at first, but when their friends showed them how much support it was getting online, they were like, “Oh! It’s good now!” 

What advice do you have for folks, living in small communities in Canada, before they paint their own Rainbow House? 

Mary: Don’t fear what other people say because it is your space! This is what I’ve said to people who question what we’ve done, we did this for us! Don’t be afraid to stand out and you will find the people who support you. Small families with children are the most endearing. It’s kind of neat that there are children who think this is a magical house. They’re not thinking, “Oh, what are you doing this for?”, they’re thinking this looks like a magical place and a good place to be.

Looking for more?

Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.