A long-time Pride volunteer is the recipient of one of Canada’s highest distinctions for helping transform the once-hostile festivities in London, Ontario, into a celebratory community event.
Eugene Dustin received the Caring Canadian Award during London’s 2013 Pride Festival from Peter Jaffe, a member of the Order of Canada, on behalf of Governor-General David Johnston.
“I’m so glad he was recognized so publicly,” says NDP MP Irene Mathyssen, who nominated Dustin for the award. “Eugene is a quiet, dedicated and very courageous person, and so often those are the people who are overlooked.”
Dustin, who has been involved with the Pride London Festival for the last 10 years, says he feels honoured. “Not that I help other people for recognition, but it’s nice to get that once in a while.”
Dustin helped transform the city into an inclusive place for LGBT people, Mathyssen says, despite much resistance from religious and anti-gay groups. “I can remember marching in the gay pride parade when there was animosity on the sidewalk, where people would say things that were hurtful and sometimes almost threatening,” she says.
Mathyssen says that one year the Banditos, whom she calls an organized crime and motorcycle gang, joined religious groups to take over parts of the sidewalk during the parade and hold up hateful posters.
Dustin remembers the protesters standing on nearly every block. He says that today there is only one small church group that protests the parade, using the same signs every year. “At least they recycle; I’ll give them credit for that,” he says.
In past years, community and political figures showed little support for Pride festivities. Mathyssen says Dustin has been instrumental in integrating the festival into city celebrations, including changing the city hall community-flags policy to ensure that it flies the Pride flag.
This year, Dustin says, many people attended, including straight couples who brought their children in an effort to teach them that same-sex and queer sexualities are acceptable.
Dustin was also involved in creating the Mr and Mrs Pride London, which raises money for various charities. One of the events he helps organize, Taste for Life, collaborated with local restaurants to raise money for the AIDs Committee of London.
Dustin currently works as a property manager and is considering reapplying to be on the Pride board at the next annual general meeting.