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The worst place to be gay?

In Cornwall, homo dances are organized by straights

EN MASSE. The members of Cornwall's PFLAG group. Credit: Xtra files

The few homo events that exist in Cornwall are organized by straight folk.



The former mill town, nestled in the southeastern corner of Ontario, is one of the worst places to be out in the province.



“It’s a very dangerous thing because people are very redneck,” says Denise Latulippe, the founder of Cornwall’s Parents, Families And Friends Of Lesbians And Gays (PFLAG). “It’s been like that for a long time and it’s been very slow to change.



“I just about flip when people say, ‘When is your gay Pride parade?'” she says. “I say not for another 20 years!”



The mother of two gay sons, Latulippe has been on a one-woman mission to take on the homophobic town for the past five years.



“Even if we only do it one class at a time, or one person at a time, I’m happy with that,” she says.



She says she’s dogged agencies like Children’s Aid and school boards with phone calls and letters.



“I feel a lot of the agencies let us down, they let their clients down,” she says. “They’re making it that much more difficult by not displaying our materials.”



Latulippe founded the local PFLAG chapter in June 1995. Although other queer groups have existed, PFLAG is the only one currently up and running. Most of its members are queer themselves. In ’98, Latulippe started Cornwall’s Rainbow Youth group.



Although she feels that in a few years she’ll be ready to pass on her title as “activist mom,” Latulippe says the experience has been unforgettable.



“If I hadn’t been affected by this I probably wouldn’t have become involved so it’s been a blessing,” she says. “We’ve received far more from the gay community than we ever could have given.”



In Cornwall, straight allies organize the queer dances.



“It’s irony to be sure, but it’s a pleasant irony,” says Paul Aubin, who has attended many such events.



Living in Cornwall is more “a challenge than a drag,” he says. “I’m trying to make the best of it.”



He speaks optimistically of his future in Cornwall. But a decade ago Aubin was attacked in a local cruising park and had beer bottles smashed over his head.



Although violent bashings aren’t uncommon, they are seldom reported, says Latulippe.



“If you admit to having been bashed you’re outing yourself,” she says. “So many stay hidden and endure the pain.”



There are no gay bars. The closest thing to it is the Nile, Cornwall’s “bias-free” coffee shop.



On a quiet night in the eclectic cafe, local youth dream of the day they’re old enough to “ditch the hick town.”



“Cornwall’s too small and it’s never gonna change,” says Amber, aged 21. “Why stay where you’re not wanted?”



Stacey Marlow, 16, says that she’s developed a thick skin and tries not to hear homophobic comments directed her way at school.



“If you want to pick a fight call me ugly, don’t call me queer,” she says.



Julia Garro traveled throughout Ontario on this summer’s Priscilla Queen Of The North tour, sponsored by the student group Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals And Transgendered Of U Of T. This is one in a series.