As Jim Culbert, of Vernon Bridge, drove up to UPEI on Saturday, he couldn’t help but smile when he saw pride flags blowing in the wind.
“I thought, this would never have happened 30 years ago,” said Culbert to an audience of about 30 people at UPEI on Saturday.
Culbert, along with Nola Etkin of Charlottetown, shared their personal struggles and triumphs with gaining acceptance on P.E.I. as part of ShOUT! P.E.I.’s Gender Sexuality Awareness Conference hosted by the Diversity and Social Justice Studies program at UPEI.
Their presentation, queer history on P.E.I., was one of several presentations throughout the day to engage the LGBTQ2S+ community and its allies.
Culbert and Etkin have been trailblazers in their fight to create equal rights and a healthier atmosphere for the gay and lesbian community.
Culbert, who is originally from Bradford Ont., moved to P.E.I. in 1988 and remembers there being no gay scene on P.E.I.
Over the years, he attempted to create one by hosting house parties and thanksgiving weekend retreats at his bed and breakfast.
He even created the website GayPEI.com to advertise to gay tourists.
“I had a lot of inquiries as to what it was like to live in Canada’s smallest province and to be gay,” said Culbert, who is the owner of Green Gay Bulls Bed and Breakfast. “I told them it was a great place to live.”
However, he admits there have been challenges along the way.
He talked about the Quebec gay couple who filed a human rights complaint against the Beach View Bed and Breakfast in 2000 after being refused a room because of their sexual orientation as well as the gay couple from Little Pond P.E.I. who were burned out of their home in 2010.
Etkin, who is originally from Montreal, spoke about the lack of human rights for gays and lesbians when she first moved to P.E.I. in 1997.
Although legislation was introduced in 1998 to include sexual orientation in the Human Rights Act, P.E.I. was the last provinces to enact the legislation.
P.E.I. was also one of the last provinces to allow same sex marriages. The federal government passed the legislation in 2005 under the Civil Marriage Act.
She married her partner in 2006.
The biggest uphill battle she and her partner faced was getting both of their names on their daughter’s birth certificate in 2007.
“She was less than a day old when she first experienced discrimination,” said Etkin.
In 2009, with the birth of their second daughter, their children were the first on P.E.I. to have two mothers on a birth certificate.
Etkin said she now feels P.E.I. is facing more social battles than legal ones.
“We still have a way to go,” admits Etkin. “Acceptance and tolerance is not enough. We need to be embraced in a fully equal part of society where it doesn’t matter what you call your gender and it doesn’t matter who you love.”