Nova Scotia

Halifax Pride issues apology to community over lack of inclusiveness

A battered Halifax Pride Society has published an open apology to the LBGT community and vows to do a better job of including all groups in the organization's annual 11-day festival.

'We acknowledge our role, having created some of that — a lot of that — hurt,' says Adam Reid

The Halifax Pride Society has apologized says it is committed to building a better festival and society. (Cassie Williams/CBC)

A battered Halifax Pride Society has published an open apology to the LBGT community and vows to do a better job of including all groups in the organization's annual 11-day festival.

The organization has been under fire for not ensuring diverse voices are heard and represented, sparking a boycott of the 30-year-old parade that draws about 100,000 people annually.

"I understand it has been a very difficult time for a lot of people in our community. We acknowledge our role, having created some of that — a lot of that — hurt," executive director Adam Reid said Saturday.

"We are really committed to working with our community to build a festival that is more reflective ... of our community and making a festival we can all be proud of."

The letter states Halifax Pride "failed to protect the community" and "the board regrets its action and inactions leading up to and during the 2016 annual meeting," which it acknowledged was "full of racism, misogyny and hate." 

The Halifax Pride Society has issued this letter of apology to its members and others in the community. (HalifaxPride.com)

Reid said he has begun meeting "one on one" with critics dissatisfied with the lack of inclusiveness, such as transgender people, people of colour and Indigenous people who said the festival did not give them a safe place to celebrate.

"Or even to voice their concerns, frankly. One thing we're looking at is: What does it mean to provide safer spaces?" he said.

"How do we build trust with the community, that they know we have their best interests at heart, that we are listening to them and are open to their suggestions?"

Having gender-neutral washrooms in facilities and counsellors on hand to chat with participants at some events are other concerns that the group is addressing, he said.

'A lot more outreach'

The society is committed to working with trans communities and queer communities of colour.

"To help them organize events, to reflect the way they want to celebrate their pride," Reid said.

He acknowledged a fiery disagreement over pro-Israel and pro-Arab factions isn't an issue that can be resolved overnight, but it will be addressed.

On Feb.16 to 19, the Halifax society is hosting a national conference of Pride organizations from cities across Canada.

Reid says it'll be a good opportunity for people to speak out about the festivals, what works and what may be needed to be more inclusive.

"It will be offering a number of open sessions —  that's one great way. As well, we will be doing more, frequent meetings and just a lot more outreach."

'Encouraging development'

Áine Morse, co-chair of the advocacy group Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, said the apology was a "really encouraging development."

"I think the admission of wrongdoing and accepting responsibility for what happened up to and at the October AGM is really important," Morse said.

Áine Morse said the apology is an encouraging start. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

At the the same time, Morse said there's concern in the community about how long the apology took and why decisions made at the AGM are considered valid if they were made in a self-described atmosphere of "racism, misogyny and hate."

There's a lot of trust to rebuild, Morse said.

"I think there is really that feeling that, OK, this is a great step, but the action is the most important piece," Morse said.

"What is that going to look like and are they going to be able to follow through? And right now I don't think there's a great deal of faith that they're going to be able to handle that with skill and ease. But I'm hopeful and many of the other folks I've spoken to about it are also hopeful, if skeptical."

With files from John Mazerolle

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