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Advocacy News - Saint John Pride 2003
July 29, 2003
John Pride - July 26, 2003
Saint John, New Brunswick - We last visited this city when we toured the province in November 2002 on our "Just Married" speaking tour. We worked with incredible local volunteers from across the province who arranged our speaking engagements, organized media coverage, and provided transportation within the province. In Saint John, we found a community composed of a many individuals who had long been struggling to advance human rights in their province and city. People were motivated and committed to bring about change. But they were struggling to find a collective voice to counter conservative elements that cast a pall over the city.
Local Saint John advocates told us of a Pride parade in Moncton, another city in New Brunswick. The growing success of Moncton's Pride activities was a source of inspiration for many in Saint John. If the rainbow could shine brightly in Moncton, perhaps the prism of hope could break through the fog of oppression in the province's port city?
In early February, Judith Meinert, a co-founder, with Wayne Harrison, of the Saint John chapter of PFLAG (both pictured at right), used a monthly PFLAG meeting to declare it was time that the city launched its first Pride week of celebrations, including a parade.
"Everyone was enthusiastic but skeptical that we would actually have people to march in the parade," reported the city's alternative news weekly, Here (July 17 - 24, 2003). "She was determined to march in the parade even if it was just her."
Then local Member of Parliament Elsie Wayne stood in Parliament and said, "When it comes to people who wish to live together, whether they are women or men, why do they have to be out here in the public always wanting to call it marriage? Why are they in parades? ... if they are going to live together, they can go live together and shut up about it."
Her intolerance ignited a furor in Saint John and across Canada.
"I think most Canadians feel we should not have to tolerate bigotry in Canada," said fellow Conservative M.P. Scott Brison (The National Post, May 9, 2003). "Elsie's statements are an embarrassment ..."
We arrived in Saint John under conditions that were less than ideal, figuratively and literally. Our flight was almost diverted to Fredericton, New Brunswick, due to low visibility. On the ground, we found that Elsie Wayne was still behaving in ways that outraged Saint John citizens. The M.P.'s ongoing prejudice was in evidence by her refusal to meet with a group of concerned citizens to discuss issues (a human rights complaint has been subsequently launched against the M.P.).
But there were rays of hope. Earlier in the week, about 80 people attended the raising of a pride flag that flew over the city for the first time; a sight that some thought they would never see in these times. Then, on July 21 Mayor Shirley McAlary read a proclamation supporting gay pride celebrations.
"In my mind, I believe I'm there for all of Saint John," the Mayor told Here. "This city is open to all people."
The Mayor's comments were underscored in a July 25 panel discussion that we participated in, attended by a diverse capacity crowd. Held in Spy Bar, and surrounded on the walls by the work of local artists, we joined local voices, including Carl Trickey, Michelle Scott, Sarah-Rose Werner (shown in the column at left), Bob McVicar (Board of Trade President), Saint John Councilor Stephen Chase, and Elizabeth Weir, Saint John Harbour MLA (shown at right) to respond to issues raised by moderator Wayne Harrison and we answered questions from the audience in attendance. It became clear, from the large turn-out and the questions posed, that this community was ready to spring into action.
The next morning, for the first time in two weeks, the city woke up to clear skies and sunshine. We gathered in Queens Square for the start of the parade, and slowly the crowd began to build. Nobody knew how many people would actually show up, or if bigots motivated by Elsie Wayne would protest against equality and same-sex marriage. Surprisingly, only two or three people could be seen objecting to the parade. One of these individuals, a man with a sign, was swarmed by the media because he was the only visible element of opposition. Elsie Wayne's constituency of hate was clearly a minor element in Saint John.
We began our march with 182 participants in the parade, but as we made our way through the streets, other citizens found the courage to join us and our numbers swelled to about 300 people. We talked to many people gay and straight, who were participating in their first public activity in support of rights. The joy and exhilaration in the crowd was unlike any other event we have attended, as fear and apprehension gave way to joy and liberation.
People on the street, young and old, gathered to wave, cheer, flash "V" signs with their fingers and join in the celebration. Parents with children, shopkeepers, senior citizens ... the diversity of the crowd and the support they offered was an uplifting surprise for the crowd. It reached a climax when we approached a large crowd gathered at King's Square. Police and media reported the throng to be about 1,500 people.
The day was also a statement about what the Maritimes is all about. It is a region where cities and provinces support one another. A large contingent was in town from Halifax, Nova Scotia, including a group from Atlantic Canada Leather Society, Don Tabor from EGALE, and Raymond Taavel (co-chair of Halifax pride). Marriage advocates Art and Wayne Toole travelled from Moncton with friends, while others came from Prince Edward Island.
It was a triumph over Elsie Wayne and her kind. Following the victory lap around town, the marchers looped back towards Queens Square where everyone gathered for speeches and entertainment. There were difficulties with the sound system, but the crowd was patient while things were worked out. After failing to power the system with a gas generator, a series of extension cords was used to run a line to a nearby house, but that was also unsuccessful. Nothing, however, could stop the enthusiasm of the crowd or those who were scheduled to appear. Speakers shouted out over the crowd and lip synchers (including Halifax Pride Ambassador Ryan Stevens, shown at right in jeans and black-T) performed to soundtracks played from a car audio system.
It was an amazing experience: one that we will never forget. We are tremendously grateful to have shared in the spirit of the day, to have worked with such great people, and to have been present the day love triumphed over hate in Saint John.
"When I walked up Sydney Street and came around to King's Square, the reception that people gave the Pride day parade, it absolutely surprised me and delighted me! In fact, it almost made me speechless," said MPP Elizabeth Weir. "What a statement about what this city really is all about."
We wish to extend our sincere thanks to: