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Community Hero award handed out in Halifax

Nova Scotia queer group honours Dan MacKay

COMMUNITY HERO. Dan MacKay was chosen for his work on the Pride board, the Rainbow Halifax wiki, and Wayves, Atlantic Canada's queer paper. Credit: Randall Perry photo

The Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project (NSRAP) recently awarded its first Community Hero award to Dan MacKay, a well-known member of the Halifax queer community.

While, in future, nominations for the award will be sought province-wide, the first recipient was selected by the executive of NSRAP. Kevin Kindred, president of NSRAP, explained to Xtra.ca why the board chose MacKay.

“Anyone who has done any work on LGBT activism in Nova Scotia knows that you can’t go too far without bumping into Dan MacKay,” says Kindred. “He’s one of those people with a finger in every pot. Some of the public work he’s done has involved serving on the Pride board, coordinating the Rainbow Encyclopedia and wiki, being one of the driving forces behind Wayves and supporting our arts community with the launch of Punoqun [a queer literary supplement to Wayves].

“Less publicly, activists in the community know him as a source of incredible knowledge, sound advice and, when necessary, loving and passionate criticism. He has shown a deep commitment to building our community, keeping us in communication with each other, reminding us of our history and planning our future.”

MacKay first came to Halifax, which he describes as “a pretty wonderful place to live,” in 1981 and quickly became involved in the queer community. In an acceptance speech full of tongue-in-cheek humour, he explained his motivation. “I am sure that you have noticed that I’m always on a team with smart, funny, well-read, hard-working people,” said MacKay. “Well, that’s one of two selfish reasons that I’m involved with the community. The other totally selfish reason… is in the interest of making my beautiful city a better place for me. Fortunately, that benefits a few other people too.”

The idea for the award was inspired by the passing in September of a key figure of the Halifax gay community, Darlene Young. From 1991 to September of this year, Young was pastor of the Safe Harbour Metropolitan Community Church, and she also served on the boards of NSRAP and the AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia.

Kindred speaks highly of Young’s contribution to the community. “I met and worked with Darlene during her time as a board member of NSRAP. At her funeral I was struck by the direct and personal impact she had on so many members of the community, during good times and bad. To me, she’s the true embodiment of a community hero and we want to present this award in her memory.”

The Community Hero award was presented at an Oct 4 gala dinner and ceremony, NSRAP’s major annual fundraiser. Catherine Meade, the federal Liberal candidate for the riding of Halifax, headed up the team of volunteers who organized the event. Kindred was pleased with the success of the fundraiser, saying, “We’re now able to set out our plans for the year to come knowing that we won’t run into a deficit.”

The keynote speaker for the event was James Loney, the gay Christian Peacemaker who, along with two other members of his team, was abducted in Iraq in 2005 and held captive for four months. Kindred says that Loney and his partner Dan Hunt “spoke in a very moving way about the impact on them of having to keep James’ sexual orientation quiet and the exclusion and homophobia they experienced in Canada throughout and after James’ kidnapping. It was, to be honest, one of the most emotionally-charged keynotes we’ve ever had at the event and people were overwhelmingly moved by hearing their experience.”

MacKay was one of those affected by the words of Loney and Hunt.

“Jim and Dan’s speech reminded us that no matter how much we think we are out, there’s always another step to take.”