The rainbow flag fluttered in the sunshine outside St. John’s City Hall, but there were reminders everywhere the community still has work to do to improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people.
The ceremonies held Monday at city hall and Memorial University were to mark the beginning of Pride Week, a week devoted to raising awareness about LGBTQ issues through events, lectures, parties and a parade Saturday.
Megan Webb is 16, and came out as a lesbian last year.
She said she went to last year’s Pride parade and loved it so much she’s going to all the events this year.
“When I figured out that people are actually celebrating being gay I was so happy,” she said.
Worries about challenges
Her mom, Dale Johnson, came with her. Tearing up, she said she was happy to support her daughter, but she worries about the challenges Megan will face.
“There’s a lot of mean people still out there and that’s something that we have to work on.”
Many of the day’s speakers discussed how violence continued to touch the community, citing Jamie Hubley and Raymond Taavel as tragic examples.
Taavel was killed earlier this spring outside a gay bar in Halifax.
Hubley was an openly gay Ottawa teen who committed suicide last year after battling bullying and depression for years.
His story is an especially poignant reminder of the price paid for homophobia in schools.
Last January, the province passed anti-gay bullying laws and Susan Rose, the provincial representative for Egale Canada, said that is just the start to making schools safe for everyone.
A former school teacher, Rose said schools that single out LGBTQ students are violating the students’ human rights.
“It’s disgusting,” Rose said.
“Transphobia and homophobia are still very much present on campus,” said Erin Edwards, a representative from MUN’s students’ union and an organizer of Pride events on campus.
Edwards and fellow MUN students are throwing the second annual Pride on Campus event. Their goal is to make campus a safe space for everyone and educate students who might not be familiar with LGBTQ issues.
There are signs the LGBTQ community is being welcomed in St. John’s. Mayor Dennis O'Keefe attended the flag raising.
And Gerry Rogers (NDP-St. John's Centre), the first openly gay person to be elected to the provincial legislature, credited the LGBTQ community for helping her win the election.
“In 2015 I’m looking forward to more,” she said.
But she reminded the energetic crowd the province still has a way to go, especially in the area of rights for transgender persons.
Although both Ontario and Manitoba have added or are adding gender identity to human rights legislation, Newfoundland and Labrador has yet to do the same.
“By God, we can do it in this province,” Rogers said.
Transgender issues became a touchy subject at this year’s Pride Week when one of its organizers, Jennifer McCreath, resigned in March. She said she was disappointed by the event’s treatment of the transgender community.
She said that gender identity and sexual identity are not the same.
“There is an issue among the gay and lesbian-run organizations that they don’t feel comfortable having the trans people deeply engaged in their work,” McCreath said.
She organized her own trans pride flag-waving event Monday evening, in order to “fill these gaps” in Pride Week’s transgender curriculum. Specifically, she said the differences between gender identity and sexual identity needs to be better explained to the community.
“This is not a matter of who you want to date. This is actually a matter of who you feel you are,” McCreath said.