Moncton may not be the legislative capital of New Brunswick, but it could soon become the queer capital of the province.
As a part of the city’s 10th anniversary Pride celebration earlier this month the organizing committee, known as River of Pride, assembled a group of queer activists, educators and allies at City Hall for a first-ever community forum.
“I think this is going to be, hopefully, a day in history in the queer scene in New Brunswick,” River of Pride spokesperson Paul Leblanc said, addressing the small crowd.
Because of Moncton’s size and central location in the Maritimes, there was an overwhelming sentiment the city should serve as an example of unity.
“We need to admit that Moncton is awake, very alive and vibrant, whereas Saint John and Fredericton are dormant, where many activists are,” says Roger LeBlanc, a kinesiology professor at the Université de Moncton.
The discussion — moderated by Pflag Canada executive director Cherie MacLeod — included representatives from the Multicultural Association of the Greater Moncton Area (MAGMA), AIDS Moncton, the Canadian Labour Congress and the president of CUPE New Brunswick, Daniel Lègére.
The goal of the brainstorming session was to establish the first steps toward sharing resources. Gay rights advocate Rev Eldon Hay — winner of the 1997 New Brunswick Human Rights award and a member of the Order of Canada — called the gathering a “seed bed,” saying a network of organizations would better serve “the broad needs of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community.”
MacLeod highlighted the mountain of work that still needs to be done to end homophobia in the city and the province.
“In New Brunswick,” she says, “we don’t even recognize Coming Out Day in October.”
Schools need to address homophobia in the classrooms and hallways, she says, by opening up dialogues and creating safe spaces.
But, some attendees expressed concern that principals can be quick to dismiss the topic of sexuality for fear of parental backlash.
“There is this big fear,” says a representative of the local Pflag chapter, “If any teacher takes a stand for homosexuality or stands up for a gay student, there will be a backlash.”
The effects of gay-bullying can be life-long, says Greg Daborn, who is also one of the founding fathers of Moncton Pride. He spoke of the taunts and harassment he endured growing up, leading to his marks plummeting and a fear of ever coming out.
It’s not just the target that suffers, Daborn says, pointing out the time wasted by teachers and administrators when bullying becomes a problem at their school.
“It struck me that not only does homophobia on the school ground hinder the victim, it hinders everybody,” he says.
The 25 attendees discussed ways to increase visibility in the community, year round, as well as how their individual groups could build a stronger network of information sharing. Currently, the province has the New Brunswick Rainbow Action (NBRA) network, but it really only operates as a rarely-used email list. Most of the crowd had no idea it even existed.
“I was flabbergasted,” Leblanc says of learning about NBRA, adding, “it only comes alive when there is an issue. You’ve got to keep people upfront and fresh.”
Although time was limited, the group set forth plans to interact more and invite one another to conferences and meetings. Knowing there is a room full of people willing to work together is the first step, says River of Pride secretary Ed Oldford.
“We all want to do something, but sometimes we don’t stop and realize what we’ve done. Let’s look at the gifts that we bring to the table and how do we take them to the next level.”