AMHERST – Many gains have been made in the fight for inclusion among members of gay and lesbian community, but speakers at the opening of Pride Week here feel there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“If we work in unison we can move mountains and eliminate much of the discrimination that remains as well as the homophobia and transphobia that exists in our world,” gay rights activist Gerard Veldhoven said during a flag-raising ceremony on Thursday at Victoria Square. “Let’s get on with it with vigour and determination.”
Veldhoven was joined by Janet Hammock of PFLAG and Order of Canada recipient Eldon Hay as well as by Cumberland municipal councilor Don Fletcher, Amherst Mayor Robert Small and Cumberland North MLA Terry Farrell in kicking off Pride Week in Amherst and Cumberland County.
The event was hosted by the SOAR Community Health Board, the Town of Amherst and the Cumberland Health Authority’s cultural diversity social inclusion committee.
Velhoven said that equality under Canadian law does not automatically translate into equal treatment and he said there are still many barriers in society. However, while he lives in Pictou County he still has many fond memories of the 40-plus years he lived in Amherst with his partner, the late Norman Carter.
Veldhoven and Carter became the first legally married gay couple in Nova Scotia a decade ago. He said he and Carter felt welcome in an accepting community and that tremendous strides were made in inclusiveness.
But, he added, the work is not done.
“I will tell you that with positive early education in our school system and at home, we will eventually enjoy a culture that is made up of our children and grandchildren with positive minds and belief in inclusion,” he said. “They are our future adults and they will instill in their children to be inclusive, regardless of our sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Veldhoven also called on everyone to remember the LGBTQ members around the world who continue to face discrimination and persecution based on who they are.
Hammock, facilitator of the Amherst-Sackville chapter of PFLAG, said the ceremony and Pride Week are opportunities to celebrate diversity.
“When we come together, as we are today, to celebrate diversity, we begin to create a world in which each and every one of us can thrive and realize our full potential,” she said. “Embracing people’s differences makes a true community.”
Hammock said events such as the flag raising need to take place every year in every town, village and city so people don’t forget the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that says no Canadian can be discriminated against because of their orientation.
“But we cannot be complacent. Still today in Canada as well as in other countries, GLBT persons are discriminated against in the labour market, in schools and in hospitals, mistreated and disowned by their own families,” Hammock said. “Even here, we are singled out for physical attack and in 76 countries discriminatory laws criminalize private, consensual same-sex relationships exposing individuals to the risk of arrest, prosecution, imprisonment and , in at least five countries, the death penalty.”
She said it’s important for everyone to do their part to fight homophobia by confronting the anti-gay joke in the lunchroom to challenging the discriminatory remark about the transgendered person.
“Bullying and hateful name calling will not stop unless we stop tolerating that behaviour,” she said. “Confronting can be done nicely, politely, firmly and sometimes with humour. It’s easy to look the other way in silence, but unless we summon the courage to do so, someone, somewhere suffers.”
Hay, who was crusading for recognition and inclusion at a time when it was difficult, if not dangerous to do so, said raising the flags shows it’s OK to recognize, accept, understand and love someone who’s different.
“Being different is one of the great gifts God has given us as humans. For some of us it’s easy to accept, but for some others it’s not as easy,” Hay said.
Hay also congratulated Amherst First Baptist Church on allowing the service to take place inside before moving into the square for the flag-raising ceremony and he called on everyone to open their minds to accepting people as they are.
“Diversity makes our communities and its institutions strong and we all have a role to play in breaking down barriers,” he said.