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June 3 event to celebrate diversity
Members of the RCMP and the Amherst Police Department raise the Pride flag during a ceremony in Amherst last summer. The town is hosting its first ever Pride parade on Saturday, June 3 starting at 2 p.m. at Victoria Square.
AMHERST, N.S. – Corey Hunter never thought she’d see the day.
The 27-year-old Amherst native is thrilled her hometown is hosting its first ever Pride parade on June 3 and she’s honoured that she is being asked to be its first parade marshal.
“I was blown away when I heard about it,” said Hunter. “I have to admit I got a little emotional I was so excited when I was called and asked to participate. I remember the first Pride celebration we had there nine years ago. We’d hoped for a small turnout, but got a pretty large turnout and now to think Amherst is going to have its very own Pride parade. It shows how far it has grown.”
Organizers first came together during last summer’s Pride flag raising ceremony in downtown Amherst when former mayor Robert Small challenged them to organize a Pride celebration in the town.
The commitment was renewed during the town’s Make It Happen Day later in the year when community stakeholders came together and left the meeting with a pledge of doing something within the town.
Dawn Ripley, who chairs the Cumberland County cultural diversity and social inclusion committee for the Nova Scotia Health Authority, started working on the concept with Colleen Dowe from Empowering Beyond Barriers and brought in other groups, such as the Amherst youth council, Maggie’s Place, the Sexual Health Centre for Cumberland and the community health boards.
“It’s going to be a family-friendly atmosphere. We’ll be encouraging people to dress up in fun, bright colours and. There’ll be face-painting and other activities,” Ripley said. “We’ve had a very positive response and as soon as people hear about it they want to know what they can do to take part. The word is spreading quickly and people are very energized about it. It’s all about creating diversity and a welcoming community, being part of something. This helps to continue that vibe and that people feel part of the community and feel welcome and respected for who they are.”
While significant gains have been made, Ripley said there is still a lot of discrimination and she feels it’s important not only for members of the LGBTQ community to defend their rights but it’s also important for those outside that community to support them as allies.
“These are basic human rights and we have to ensure their human rights are respected,” Ripley said.
Prior to the parade, there will be a quick ceremony in Victoria Square including a flag-raising. From there, the parade will follow the Big Block Walk through the downtown and end at the square with the potential for entertainment and food vendors.
Hunter said larger centres such as Moncton and Halifax have committees within the LGBTQ community to organize events such as this. To think Amherst’s parade is being organized within the community at large by non-LGBTQ members makes it all the more special.
“It’s beautiful to see,” she said.
She said it also shows how attitudes have changed and how the community is more accepting. Hunter, who spoke at the International Women’s Day ceremony in Amherst in March, has talked to high school students about her life and she was recently invited to speak to elementary-age children.
It’s a lot different from a decade ago when she was going to high school in Amherst. She also remembers speaking at a public speaking competition about homophobia and the need for a gay-straight alliance at ARHS and seeing chins drop throughout the audience. She finished last in the competition.
“There were many days I had to go to school with a thick skin because you never knew what was going to be said to you or who was going to do what to you,” she said. “Every journey is like climbing a mountain. You have to take five or six steps up and then you have to go sideways for a while before you can make more progress. That’s the great thing about this town, it never lets those setbacks stop it and it finds new avenues to support each other and showcase diversity. It’s wonderful.”