This event has been part of the town’s scene since 2008.
The former Cumberland Pride Society first made the request to fly the flag in front of Amherst Town Hall hoping for a positive response. Officials readily agreed and plans were made to initiate this event. As well, the group organized a full week of Pride events that were well attended and brought out the folks of Cumberland because of curiosity and a serious interest in the LGBTQ community in their jurisdiction.
Four years in a row Amherst celebrated Pride Week with the flag raising ceremony, gay parenting workshop, panel discussions, dinner and dance, plus family picnics. We celebrated a full array of events that demonstrated the co-operation of all citizens with positive and inclusive results.
Unfortunately, Cumberland Pride ceased to exist due to several circumstances. The latest flag raising event was a great success thanks to Dawn Ripley, Emma Brown and dedicated others, as it was attended by an estimated 100 people. Guest speakers, including yours truly, spoke of the successes and the need to continue to raise awareness, as we are not there yet and the work ahead is indeed arduous and time consuming.
Slowly, and I stress, slowly, we make positive gains. June 3 and downtown Amherst became a beehive of activity. The Pride parade was setting up on Victoria Street and I was amazed at the number of folks lining up to participate in this first Pride parade in this area. Officials estimated the crowd at about 800. Most of us love a parade, but this particular one had a special meaning as it was the very first in Cumberland County.
Personally, it was a scene that brought tears to my eyes as I was witnessing an event that would not have been possible just a few years ago. I have been an activist for LGBTQ rights for well over 40 years and Amherst was my home from 1969 until 2012 and to be a part of this celebration was rather emotional.
I have been involved for many years and now I am able to witness positive results. The fact I faced many challenges and frustrations with politicians, religious beliefs, as well as some family members and friends, I carried on with a determination to make even a dent in a discriminatory world. When I was notified that Amherst would hold its first Pride parade I was ecstatic. After a short period of decline, a positive and inclusive move by folks not members of the LGBTQ community, but terrific allies, took the high road to success. As I was lining up and looked around, I noticed the smiling faces and the range in ages of participants and it became apparent I was in the midst of a phenomenal occasion.
My passengers were Sherri Briand and the inimitable human rights activist and Order of Canada recipient, Eldon Hay. We spoke of the tremendous opportunity to be involved in this positive celebration.
Years ago politicians would not take part, but here we see Member of Parliament Bill Casey and Amherst Mayor Dr. David Kogon in the midst of this glorious day that even the rain could not dampen.
Thank you Amherst, you have made me proud. Perhaps next year Pictou County will follow suit.
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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.