Mark McLearn is proud of who he is.
The 20-year-old Pugwash native shared his story as part of Amherst Pride Week flag-raising ceremony on Monday.
“I’m ecstatic, I can’t put into words what this means to me,” he said following the ceremony at the town flagpoles near the Cumberland YMCA. “The first time I went to a Pride event three years ago gave me a voice where I felt at home, celebrated and part of the community.”
McLearn, who came out at the end of his Grade 10 year, said he felt alone in that there was no one he could look to for advice or to be a role model. However, he added, he knew there was a group of people who would support him no matter what.
“Not everyone is as privileged as I am to have had that,” he said.
McLearn said a lot has happened over the years to make members of the LGBTQ+ community feel comfortable, but there’s still a long way to go before there’s equality and the remaining barriers overcome.
“It’s easy to say we’ve come a long way, but we’re not there yet,” said McLearn, a student at the Springhill campus of the Nova Scotia Community College.
Michelle Richard of Cumberland Pride said attitudes began to change toward the LGBTQ+ community 50 years ago following a raid by the New York Police Department on a bar in Greenwich Village because it was rumoured to be a gay bar.
“It has been felt to be a catalyst and the beginning of the fight for equality for the LGBTQ+ people,” Richard said. “Fifty years seems to be a long time ago and we’ve made great strides toward equality with the legalization of same-sex marriage across all Canadian provinces and all 50 U.S. states, the presence of Gender Sexuality Alliances in schools to the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada.”
Richard remembers the very first flag-raising in Amherst more than a decade ago. There were only 11 people present.
“We were proud and hopeful the message we were trying to get out would catch on, and so it did,” she said. “This week we will be raising flags in many communities in our county with many other events.
“We’ve grown and shown others how proud Amherst is of its LGBTQ+ community and I’m proud to be part of the committee that continues to move this work forward. I do dream of the day when individuals will no longer be judged, persecuted or hated simply because they do not conform to outdated societal norms of what it’s like to be male or female or because who they love.”
She said the community is in a good place and that the next generation will continue to work to challenge society for change and that equality for all will no longer be a dream, but a reality.
Bill Schurman, speaking for the northern zone’s 10 community health boards, said it’s important to look back at what has taken place over the last half century while looking forward to continued advocacy for change.
“Things are indeed changing,” he said. “What started as a pride march born out of necessity now welcomes all to come together to celebrate and to talk about rights and freedoms and to remind of victories not yet won.”
He said the community health boards hear, see and support the LGBTQ+ community and will fight for it.
Earlier in the day, staff at Indigenous Services Canada raised the Pride Flag and flew it during the week in front of the Atlantic regional office
Other events this week include:
Municipality of Cumberland Pride flag raising, Upper Nappan Service Centre – 10 a.m.
Movie night at the Amherst Library featuring the movie Love, Simon. Discussion to follow – 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Flag raising in Oxford in park across from town hall – 6 p.m.
Coffee house and open mic at Art of Eating Deli – 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Pride Festivities at the Dr. Carson and Marion Murray Community Centre – 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Pride swag making party at the River Hebert Library – 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Drag show and dance party at Teazers Pub & Eatery. (There is an entrance fee) – 8:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Pride parade and festivities at Victoria Square in Amherst. Parade begins at 2 p.m. Music and vendors in the square runs from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
All bodies Swim & Rainbow Storytime. Cumberland YMCA, Amherst – Swim 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., Storytime 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Multi-faith Pride services at Victoria Square, Amherst, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.