Pride rally invokes pain and emotion as rights are threatened

by | May 18, 2024

‘How would you think, feel, react to having a constant target on your back; living in fear everyday?’: GSA student and activist

Queer and trans activists and their allies delivered a powerful and often emotional message in downtown Woodstock Friday, May 17. 

To mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, between 80 and 100 people gathered at Citizen’s Square Park to stand against what they see as the erosion of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community’s hard-gained rights. 

The Pride rally, hosted by Woodstock-based Rainbow Crosswalk Inc., comes on the heels of several political measures on a national, provincial and community basis, which queer and trans people believe threaten their futures. 

Amanda Lightbody helped organize the Rainbow Week of Action Rally on Friday, May 17. (Jim Dumville photo)

Amanda Lightbody, Rainbow Crosswalk president and founder, began the noon-hour event by explaining the rally’s focus. 

“The rally is about awareness and action,” she said. “To bring awareness to and stand united against the anti-2SLGBTQIA+ hate rising in our community, provinces and country.” 

She introduced a series of speakers, including a retired lawyer who detailed the legal rights of all Canadians, a pair of youths who experienced firsthand the impact of discrimination and hate, and New Brunswick’s Official Opposition Leader, Susan Holt.  

Lightbody said the rally follows the enactment of regressive decisions by the Woodstock council, which discontinued the display of Pride banners, and the Higgs government, which undermined Policy 713, which protects queer and trans children in New Brunswick schools.  

While not specifically about Woodstock’s banner issue, Lightbody said the problem cannot be ignored. She acknowledged that while the council’s decision may not intentionally target the gay community, it emboldened the “hate and bigotry groups.” 

Lightbody described the New Brunswick government’s decision to dismantle Policy 713’s protection as just the first step down a slippery slope. 

“Trans youth and trans children are just the start but homophobia is the goal,” she said. 

Lightbody introduced the event’s first speaker, Stuart Kinney, a retired lawyer and lifetime Woodstock resident. He explained why the town’s and province’s recent decisions were unconstitutional based on Supreme Court precedents. 

Kinney dismissed Mayor Trina Jones’ argument that the decision to restrict banners to heritage, tourism or those with an MOU was a “neutral” position. 

“This policy is not neutral; not in determining who is permitted to place banners nor with respect to the content of those banners,” he said. 

Under the policy, he said the town could not recognize long-standing traditions such as Mother’s Day or Victoria Day or promote important social events such as Mental Health Week, Red Dress Day, Black History Month and a long list of critical social actions, including International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. 

Retired Woodstock lawyer Stuart Kinney. (Jim Dumville photo)

“Unfortunately, in Woodstock, if you wanted to commemorate any of these events by installing banners on the lamp posts in the downtown core, drawing attention to the important concepts for which these days were designated, you would be out of luck,” Kinney said. “Pursuant to the Town’s recently adopted Banner, Flags, Proclamations and Lighting Policy such banners would not be eligible for placement on that municipal property.”

Kinney noted the irony of offering an exception to the veterans who fought to ensure our freedoms while denying those freedoms for which they fought. 

He called upon the mayor and council to amend the policy immediately to meet the constitutional requirements under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

Two event speakers shared their painful experiences growing up in a world unwilling to accept who they are. 

Spencer (he/they) is a member of the Woodstock High School Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) and will graduate this June. 

Mitchell (he/they), who grew up in Tilley, recounted the torturous teenage years facing conversion therapy in Woodstock. 

Spencer, who experienced gay and transphobia, explained the province’s changes to Policy 713 took away what little protection upon which trans children could depend. 

“It’s hard,” said the 17-year-old who wants to remain “hopeful.” 

Fr left Carleton York Liberal candidate Chris Duffie, Mitchell, Spencer, Susan Holt and Fredericton North Liberal candidate Luke Randall. (Jim Dumville photo)

“It’s more than opposing injustice,” Spencer said, “It’s about actively working towards a better future for everyone.” 

The teenager closed his statement with a line encompassing the realities of queer and trans children. 

“How would you think, feel, react to having a constant target on your back. Living in fear everyday.” Spencer asked.

Following Spencer’s address, Lightbody noted a group of GSA members and a teacher from Carleton North High School attended the rally. 

She said the students marked the day at their school by posting a Pride flag at the building’s front entrance.

“That took courage,” Lightbody said. 

Mitchell, who still bears the scars of conversion therapy, stressed the practice under the guise of Christian values continues. 

“Those actions still take place today, folks, don’t you let anyone tell you anything different.”

In an emotional delivery, Mitchell discussed overcoming fear, anger, and pain to take a stand against injustice.

“I’m here to tell you proudly, although a little bit shattered, I stand in resilience and strength,” he said. 

Rainbow Crosswalk Vice President Scott McCallum. (Jim Dumville photo)

Mitchell called it discouraging to see the New Brunswick government dismiss evidence-based research and practices to pursue misguided personal beliefs that threaten the safety of 2SLGBTQIA+ community members. 

“There are people in this community that are hurting,” Mitchell said. “There are people in this community that need to see you stand up.”

As she introduced Holt, Lightbody noted how the provincial government is weaponizing fear and misinformation as a political tool. 

“Hate is based on fear. When you’re fearful you will do anything. And if you’re a parent and you’re being told your kids are hurting and you’re fearful of that, your mama bear and papa bear come out. And that’s understandable. That’s why we’re upset at the government for the lies they’re telling.”

Holt — accompanied to the rally by Carleton-York and Fredericton North Liberal candidates Chris Duffie and Luke Randall, respectively, and New Brunswick NDP Leader Alex White — praised the other speakers.  

Carleton-York Liberal candidate Chris Duffie and Woodstock resident Tom Sproull at the Pride rally in downtown Woodstock. (Jim Dumville photo)

“I think when New Brunswickers are hurting and scared and their rights are under attack, that’s where I want to be to reassure you that there are people in this province who love you and will fight for you,” she said. 

The Liberal leader said protecting the rights of the oppressed should not be a partisan issue. She laid out a welcome mat for the PC party’s “progressive” members, who can’t accept Higgs’s decision to embrace the far right. 

“This is not the time for partisanship,” she said. “This is bigger than red, blue, green and orange.”

Before the rally began, Holt explained why she deemed it essential to attend the Woodstock rally on Friday and the Fredericton event on Saturday.

“I think it’s important to stand up for people whose rights are under threat and their safety is in question. Every New Brunswicker deserves to feel free of discrimination or violence in their province. We have to stand up and call out homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia this international day and know that people like me are here to stand up for their rights.”

The rally ended with those in attendance marching to Carlton MLA Bill Hogan’s constituency office, where Rainbow Crosswalk Vice President Scott McCallum presented a staff member with a letter outlining their concerns. 

Lightbody said she recently talked to local teens who shared a message for the minister. 

“Teens want their MLA, who is also their minister of education, to know one thing, and I quote. ‘It would not be a problem if you did not make it a problem.'”

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