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COLUMN: Members of LGBTQ community in rural and urban Canada

REFOCUS by Gerard Veldhoven

This subject has been discussed by many organizations and individuals. We tend to believe, through personal experiences, as well as accounts from those who have lived in urban centres and rural areas, that it is easier to live life as an LGBTQ person in larger cities where anonymity is more assured.

If one feels the need to exist in a secret environment where being an LGBTQ citizen is questioned, then indeed, city life is the answer, as people generally are not concerned with one’s sexual orientation or true gender identity.

In rural settings the anonymity is not as easy to obtain and one is likely to be analysed by folks who believe a person living alone must be gay or lesbian. Curious minds and gossip soon take over. However, with all the tales we hear about rejection, brutality and, yes, taking of lives, especially in urban Canada, we must acknowledge that many small towns and other rural areas enjoy some willingness to accept LGBTQ people in their midst.

Discriminatory attitudes remain a reality, regardless of location. It is wide ranging and affects the whole of society. I reside in New Glasgow, and previously lived in Amherst, near the New Brunswick border. Both towns are of almost equal size with just under 10,000 citizens.

Relocating to Amherst, from Halifax, was a challenge as I had never lived in a town before. I discovered that living in a town of this size in the 1970s meant that discrimination was rampant and there were a few who projected approval. However, at that time homophobia, biphobia and transphobia were still in high gear. Same-sex relationships were being discussed, but only in more or less, secretive scenarios.

It was not until 1969, that “homosexuality” was decriminalized in Canada, meaning that before that date, being gay or lesbian was against the law. Under Pierre Trudeau’s watch, the law was revised, and so members of the LGBTQ community began a sort of celebration, as indicated by the beginnings of Pride celebrations across the country. However, this was mostly in major cities across this nation. Those living in smaller communities were not yet prepared in “coming out” in fear of retaliation.

Halifax, a small city, in comparison to Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, realized its first Pride march in 1988, with some walkers who hid their faces with paper bags, while others bravely marched with faces uncovered. This effort was the beginning of Halifax’s LGBTQ community’s pride celebrations, which are now recognized as the third largest in Canada.

As more activists and supporters became involved in fighting for equality in the 1970s, and indeed continue to do so, we realized an increase in a slow but workable progress in equal rights across Canada. Smaller communities such as Amherst, New Glasgow and others were not quite ready to join larger centres. A same-sex marriage was announced in Amherst in September of 2004, the first such publicly performed ceremony in Nova Scotia, on Oct. 16. At that point, many changes were being realized as more activists, organizations and allies, became involved in the good fight.

The Town of Amherst made history. Pride celebrations became yearly events that spread throughout rural areas. The question remains and the discussions continue to see whether rural and urban LGBTQ Canadians are enjoying the support of most other Canadians.

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Gerard Veldhoven is a longtime activist for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. His column appears Wednesdays in The News.

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