Published Nov. 15 2016
If anyone had asked me 40 years ago if I’d ever expected to attend a lesbian conference in Muskoka I’d have laughed. But it happened last week! On Nov. 3 at the Marriott Hotel in Gravenhurst the fourth annual Muskoka Pride Conference was held for LGBT people. It’s not really so surprising given that between 2001 and 2006 the number of self-identified same sex couples has increased by 40 per cent and since 2012 the Ontario Human Rights Code protects people from discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. Progress certainly has been made for lesbians gay men bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people in Canada.
When my partner and I entered the lobby to pay our $30 and to write our name labels we were instructed to write our pronouns on them as well. That was a new one for me although of course I’ve often wondered which pronouns – he or she him or her his or hers – to use for strangers. The point is to find out which pronouns a person prefers; and if you don’t know you can use “they/their” or just ask them what pronouns to use.
In welcoming us Heather Hay the organizer thanked OPSEU the union whose Rainbow Alliance donated $1000 towards the conference and indeed close to 40 per cent of the participants were service providers – an OPP officer teachers social workers and YMCA staff.
Which brings us to the youth who attended the conference. In a group of about 75 people a good third of them were youth – invited from their Gay/Straight Alliances (GSAs) at Muskoka high schools to attend. These young people were well informed empathetic and appreciative of the safer space that their LGBT elders had made for them in the community.
How did the youth manage to attend the conference on a school day? With the aid of PFLAG which is a Canada-wide organization of parents families and friends of LGBT people. Local PFLAG members had been making presentations to the GSAs so it was natural for the youth to be invited to the conference.
Veronica Johnny gave a presentation on two spirits a term traditionally used by native people to recognize individuals who possess qualities or fulfill roles of both genders. She taught us songs to heal from past hurts and played her drum for us. The healing songs were very helpful. We all sang them and we did a smudge wafting the smoke from cedar and sage which helps you feel safe and speak from your heart. Given the fearful lives that many LGBT people live this was very useful and it made me think of Christopher at Prettypaws Pet Boutique and Spa in Haliburton who has had anti-gay slurs twice written on his storefront.
Michelle Emson is a filmmaker and transwoman (meaning she transitioned from male to female) who gave us some insights into her life in Europe while she was making a film on trans people. She said that the Europeans she met were not interested in “binary gender” an outdated view of gender because it limits possibilities to “man or woman” “male or female.” They were more interested in a fluid kind of sexuality.
The message of the conference was that the terminology may be confusing and complicated but not to worry. The main thing is empathy support and being able to create a safe space for LGBT folks. And finally let’s celebrate our successes! For example The Echo writes very positive coverage of our issues the entire staff of the Haliburton County Public Library did awareness training a couple of years ago provided by Point In Time which also has a Rainbow Youth Group. Christopher from Prettypaws has received an outpouring of sympathy and support; and most public of all Minden Pride Day was on the front page of The Minden Times. Haliburton is moving forward as well as Muskoka.
By Gay Bell