“Whereas the proclamation of Gay Pride Week recognizes an aspect of diversity that any healthy community would want to embrace … I do declare June 22 to June 28 to be Gay Pride Week, a celebration of the wonderful diversity of Fredericton that includes the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community.”
Living in Fredericton during the late 1990s, the queer community would not have imagined Mayor Brad Woodside reading those words, with a smile on his face.
Eleven years ago, he said declaring Pride Week didn’t represent “what the community is all about and what would be accepted by the community.”
The mayor says he has gone through a “personal maturation” process, adding that he has come to appreciate the diversity in his city’s population.
“We change with time,” Woodside said, in a telephone interview, “and change is for the better.”
A former president of Fredericton Lesbians and Gays (FLAG) says the mayor’s change of heart is legitimate. The work of activists, more than a decade ago, Adrian Park says, has made it possible for this week’s celebrations to go off with support, rather than backlash.
Fredericton was a closeted town before the controversy over Pride erupted and those in the closet often “sniped” at the activists for making it harder to live a secretive life, he says.
Park spoke about the history of the gay rights movement last Monday, as a part of a Pride Week lecture series, following the proclamation at city council. The local gay community’s fight for recognition figures prominently in the Canadian movement.
After years of rebuffs from City Hall, three members of FLAG in 1998 brought the mayor before a provincial human rights tribunal. Even though the city always had a large gay population — being a university and government town — the notion of Pride was cause for a heated, often nasty, debate.
At the time Woodside argued his faith and his right to freedom of speech exempted him from having to proclaim Pride Week, and that “sex had no place in the council chambers.”
Support, and contempt, for his stance poured in from across the country. The Daily Gleaner, Fredericton’s mainstream newspaper, published numerous letters on the issue, some even suggesting that Pride Week would pave the way for “Pedophile Week.” One property owner put a billboard on his land with the words “Honk if you’re straight.”
Ken Spragg, 30, has seen the progression the city has made since those days. He was a university student during that period and is happy to now see a rainbow flag raised over downtown, without a fight. Fredericton’s change was slow, he says, but people have come to realize that everyone knows someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.
“I think by being visible,” he says, “by not hiding, it’s an open invitation for people to get to know us and come to respect us.”
Capital City Pride — organized by PJ Spencer and Sarah McAdam — is an all-inclusive community event. The week’s events culminated with a Random Acts of Kindness day, in lieu of a parade.
Park, who was happy organizers consulted with former FLAG members for the events, thinks this sort of finale serves as a good “small town approach” to encouraging unity in the city.