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Kisses, cake mark pride celebrations

Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The battle against harassment and discrimination is not won, but members of Yellowknife's gay community attending a gay pride event Friday say the city is a relative safe haven.

"Yellowknife has always been a place that is cosmopolitan and diverse," former Out North volunteer Lorne Gushue said. "I challenge anyone to find a community of 20,000 people in Canada that is this open-minded."

Gushue made the comments as Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) members handed out fruit skewers, rainbow-iced cake, and pamphlets to people passing the Yellowknife post office Friday. Similar PSAC-organized events took place in Inuvik, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson and Norman Wells Friday; Hay River hosted an event earlier in the month.

"We're trying really hard to prevent homophobia and get the message out that we're all equal," said Mary Lou Cherwaty, president of the Northern Territories Federation of Labour, which supported PSAC at the event.

"Making sure people know that discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation is prohibited. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) persons have the same human rights as everyone."

"There is a need for continued education and awareness," Gushue said. "Those guys that ran afoul of a homophobic landlord not too long ago, that's indicative of the fact that people need to be reminded that we have rights - equal rights, not special rights - and that we're entitled to them."

The need for "social justice" is the reason Josh Campbell, who works for NDP MP Dennis Bevington and is straight but supportive of gay rights, stopped by on his lunch break.

"I remember when equal rights for marriage were going through in the 1990s," Campbell said. "We take for granted what was a hard issue 10 or 15 years ago, and now people don't have as much negative response to these things. And they shouldn't, it's human rights, equal rights."

While big cities such as Vancouver and Toronto host large events and parades this summer, Yellowknife's event was comparatively low-key. The only overt signs of a gay pride event were rainbow flags, the food, and the occasional kiss between Reigh-Leigh Foster and her girlfriend Tracey DeBaie.

"It's just not the kind of place where people feel they need to have a big hoopla about pride," said Foster, who moved to the city from Nova Scotia a year ago. She met fellow Nova Scotian DeBaie, who arrived seven years ago, on a dating website.

"There's got to be a lot of people here who aren't necessarily as comfortable with their sexuality," Foster added. "I think it would be good to have more (LGBT) community events so people can get to know each other. It's nice to feel that community, that sense of knowing there's people like you around."

Foster had hoped to attend a LGBT dance last year but couldn't get a ticket. Organizers told her they sold 500 tickets and could have sold twice that many. She and DeBaie will have something to look forward to, though, as PSAC service representative Steve Petersen said the union is planning to host a LGBT Halloween dance in October.

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