PUGWASH – While it can’t stop the Seventh-day Adventist Church from hosting a pair of controversial speakers at its Camp Pugwash facility next week, the Sexual Health Centre for Cumberland and its partners want to raise awareness for the LGBTQ+ community in Cumberland County.
The Amherst-based centre is hosting a two-hour Safer Spaces event on July 18 at Cyrus Eaton Park in Pugwash beginning at 6 p.m.
This free session will present highlights of the recently updated Safer Spaces training program that is delivered to service providers by the sexual health centre and its community partners.
“We cannot uninvite people’s values to our community,” centre executive director Rene Ross said in a news release. “The group in question has a legal right to assemble and to hold their event. Aggressive tactics and forceful responses in opposition to the event will not help us achieve the community awareness and understanding that is desperately needed across our county, and the province.”
The conference at Camp Pugwash runs from July 20 to 28 at the camp owned by the Maritime Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Both Michael Carducci and Danielle Harrison of Coming Out Ministries have been invited by the church as youth speakers.
Their appearance has drawn opposition from LGBTQ+ groups around the province who claim the speakers’ message will promote techniques similar to conversion therapy – the practice of attempting to change people’s sexual orientation.
Ross said her organization is also opposed to the speakers appearing in Pugwash because it will attempt to educate those in attendance, including young people, that homosexuality is a sin.
“LGBT+ organizations from across the province have done an excellent job of emphasizing the damaging impacts associated with this belief as supported by research and importantly, by youth themselves. These impacts include increased stigma, depression, suicidal thoughts and acts, she said. “Understandably, news of the event has created a great deal of anger and distress. Here at home and across our province, many LGBT+ youth struggle in isolation as a result of damaging beliefs that stigmatize homosexuality.”
Ross said the sexual health centre continues to experience an increase in the number of requests from partners for resources and information on how to be an ally and create safer spaces in the community.
She said there is a need to highlight resources in the county, promote community inclusion, and provide education to break the isolation that so many LGBT+ youth in the county continue to experience.
These resources include allied ministries across our county who make a positive difference in the lives of so many LGBT+ youth in our county by accepting and including youth, as they are.
“This is a matter of health, safety and yes, even prayer. Our sexuality is a unique combination of biological, social, cultural, and psychological factors that interact in complex ways,” said Ross. “Our faith and spirituality are an important part of our sexual health and wellbeing and contribute greatly to the development of youth, who are at the centre of this issue. A compassionate response rooted in education is needed”
Ross said members of her organization recently met with members of Pugwash’s village council to discuss the conference and the need to raise community awareness.
Village commission chair, Bill Martin, said his community is being unfairly dragged into the controversy. Pugwash, he said, supports the LGBTQ+ community through its flying of the Pride flag every year in Eaton Park.
He said the Seventh-day Adventist camp is actually 10 kilometres from the village.
“The Village of Pugwash neither supports nor endorses the presentation,” Martin said. “We have no more control over their activities than anyone has over an event ten kilometres from your home.”
Martin said Pugwash is world famous for peace, a reference to the village’s history with the Nobel prize winning Pugwash Thinkers Conference.
“We seek to hold mankind safe and secure from all that divides us. Pugwash has a long history of inclusiveness, friendliness, and a welcoming nature,” the village chair said.