Gerry Rogers (right) is the first openly gay elected political member of the house of assembly in Newfoundland and Labrador. She attended the Bay Roberts Flag raising ceremony with her partner of 20 years, Peggy Norman.Photo by Melissa Jenkins
Bay Roberts, an epicentre of activity in the Conception Bay North area, hosted an event of acceptance and equality last month for the Communities Against Violence Initiative in the area.
July 24 marked a first for the municipality when the region’s pride flag raising ceremony was held at the town hall in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) rights. Previous years it has been held in neighbouring Carbonear.
Several dozen representatives from the LGBT communities, allies, family and friends packed the council chambers to hear town officials and special guests proclaim words of encouragement and support for groups from all walks of life.
Special guest Gerry Rogers, MHA for St. John’s Centre and the first openly gay politician to hold a seat in the House of Assembly in the province, spoke on experiences, hopes and dreams for the future of LGBT residents of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Peggy Norman, Rogers’ partner of 20 years, was also in attendance.
“We have a summer house (in Conception Bay North) so we are out to show our support for the area,” Norman said.
Also present were MHA Steve Kent (Mount Pearl North) and MP Scott Andrews (Avalon).
Special guests gathered at the base of the flagpoles in front of the town hall to raise the multicoloured flag.
The audience let out a loud cheer when the flag caught the wind as it was pulled into the air.
Unanimous to host event
The Communities Against Violence Initiative have been vocal in their protection of the rights of minorities, including the LGBT community.
The regional co-ordinator for the initiative, Heather Sutton, said Bay Roberts was on the top of a short list of communities to host this year’s festivities and presented the idea to council.
She added that the response came only two days after the request that the town was on board.
The council members decided unanimously that the town would support the event, said Mayor Phillip Wood.
Three of the six councillors were also in attendance.
“This is a great day,” Wood said after the ceremony. “The town was happy to come on board and be a part of such an important issue.”
Still an uphill battle
The event comes at a time when controversy on gay rights in Russia has sparked significant backlash from the global community.
The country passed a law in recent weeks to prevent “homosexual propaganda” being spread to children. In other words, minors under 18 are no longer allowed to hear, see or speak of anything involving LGBT issues.
Here in Canada there are no such laws, but Rogers believes Newfoundland can do more to protect and include the LGBT community in the province.
She said the province has refused to change the wording of the human rights law to include gender identity and expression and called for a change of inclusion for all people.
Her passion shined when she slammed her fist on the podium saying how human rights are not a luxury and all residents should be treated equally no matter their skin colour, sexual orientation or any feature that may distinguish them from societal norms.
The crowd was so enthused by Rogers' speech, they hooted and hollered in support of her strong demands.
She did, however, praise members of the department of education for implementing a program for schools against homophobia.
Kent, a member of the Progressive Conservative majority government, read a speech written by collegue Charlene Johnson in support of the event, noting how the current government supports the rights of the LGBT community. He also contested some of the claims of Rogers in an email to The Compass.
"The Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission has a set of guidelines that state that discrimination or harassment based on gender identity is prohibited by the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Act 2010 and that complaints in NL are accepted under the enumerated ground of sex," he stated. "We are a progressive and inclusive society, and obviously we review our legislation on an ongoing basis to ensure that it reflects that reality."
Kent agreed there has been "tremendous headway" made in the area of LGBT rights in our province.
"We all know there is still more work to be done, and as a government, we are committed to working with our community partners to provide supports for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and to continue to build safe, violence-free communities for all residents of our province," he said, noting the provincial government has invested some $90,000 in a gay-straight alliance program for schools across the province.
The Canadian government has passed a private member’s bill — bill C-279 — to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code to include gender identity. It is still before the Senate for official approval.