The needs of the gay community may have changed, but Nola Etkin believes Pride Week activities are just as important today as they were when the celebrations first began in P.E.I. 16 years ago.
Etkin, one of the organizers of the first Gay Pride Week on the Island, points to transgendered Islanders.
Transgendered issues, she said, is where sexual orientation issues were 16 years ago. There is a lot of work and education still needed, she added.
“There’s still heart-breaking stories out there,” said Etkin, who lives in Charlottetown with her partner and their two children.
PRIDE WEEK SCHEDULE
“We think that we’ve gotten there because we have equal rights and we have adoption rights and because we have most of the legal rights that we’ve been fighting for. But it’s still hard for kids in high school, coming out.”
The gay community will be coming out to celebrate the colours of the rainbow during Pride Week this week. Festivities began on Sunday with a church service at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Charlottetown. Celebrations continue all week with the highlight being the pride parade and pride in the park celebrations on Saturday.
Tyler Murnaghan, co-chairman of the Abegweit Rainbow Collective of P.E.I., the group organizing pride week activities, said there are now supports in place for the gay community all year long — not just during pride week. He points to groups such as the Gay Straight Alliances, or GSA.
Groups are now in place in a number of high schools, including the two high schools in Charlottetown and one in Summerside.
Still, he sees the importance of Pride Week.
“The first summer I actually came out was our first pride festival,” said Murnaghan, who is 20 years old. “It definitely felt good to know that you weren’t alone. I went to a junior high probably the only not-straight kid in the entire building.”
In 1997, when Etkin moved to Prince Edward Island, it was a much different world for the Island’s gay community.
There were no pride celebrations. There were no equal rights based on sexual orientation. There were little supports in place for P.E.I.’s gay and lesbian community.
Etkin said a group got together to hold a gay dance.
“There was a real need then,” she said. “There was nothing else.”
Two years later, in 1999, P.E.I. played host to its first pride week.
But there was no parade. That came a year later, in 2000, when the Island first Gay Pride parade wound its way through the streets of the capital city. It was described by many as the coming out of the Island’s gay community.
Etkin said the overall response from those who lined the streets, both gay and straight, was positive.
“There were always a few, four or five people, who would show up with signs and follow us around. Never any real verbal confrontation or physical confrontation.”
It was not unexpected, said Etkin.
“People would see it and they would swarm around it with their positive reaction. It really made it clear that it was a very few people with that attitude.”
That positive reaction continues to grow, especially among young Islanders, said Murnaghan.
“People talk about pride, people are excited about pride whether you are straight or whether you are gay.”