Reflections on P.E.I.'s first Pride march — 25 years later
'It was important to let people know that we were here. That we were their friends, their family'
"The birthplace of Confederation had never seen a demonstration like this before," is how the CBC reporter described the first Pride march on Prince Edward Island 25 years ago.
It was called the Gay and Lesbian Pride March, with supporters in the community taking to the streets of Charlottetown to raise awareness and to demand protection under the law.
"I definitely was excited but I definitely had some trepidation and I think some of that was highlighted by the fact that we had people walking with bags over their head because they were terrified of being outed," said Troy Perrot-Sanderson, one of the original organizers and marchers.
"It was important to let people know that we were here. That we were their friends, their family, their neighbours, their co-workers," he said.
"We weren't this nameless gay people from away ... we were actually Islanders born and raised here and Islanders needed to see and hear that and that was not going to happen if we didn't stand up and be counted."
'Afraid of being kicked out of our homes'
Perrot-Sanderson worked for AIDS P.E.I. at the time, which evolved into PEERS Alliance in 2017.
He said the march was organized to help push for changes in the P.E.I. Human Rights Act to include sexual orientation.
"Keeping us from getting discriminated against so that we weren't being afraid of being kicked out of our homes, being kicked out of apartments or being denied access to social programs and government programs," he said.
"And more importantly, having a partner who was sick in the hospital and not being allowed access to them because the family decided you weren't really part of their family and they just sent you away. And that happened many, many times to many people until we actually had rights."
'A march for equal rights'
Deb Berrigan was at the front of the parade, helping to hold a banner for the Lesbian Collective. She said she was one of the fortunate ones who had job security and was able to be front and centre at the time.
Balloons had been blown up and brought along to represent all of those who were unable to attend the march out of fear of reprisals.
"It was a march for equal rights and for the government to give us protection," Berrigan said.
"It wouldn't have made that much difference to me but it would've made a big difference to a lot of my friends at that time if they knew that they could go for a loan and that their orientation wouldn't be held against them."
They marched through the streets of Charlottetown, singing and chanting songs 25 years after the original Stonewall Riot.
'For the love of God, really?'
CBC P.E.I. interviewed some of the onlookers. Some were there to support and others yelled homophobic insults.
At one point, oranges were thrown at those in the march from behind a fence.
"We were like 'Oh for the love of God, really?'" Perrot-Sanderson said. "I think at one point somebody actually threw some of them back and the rest of us gathered them up and we turned around and made smoothies with them later so they were good."
Perrot-Sanderson said it was important to take those first steps with the march to lay the groundwork for change.
It took four years of marching before the province prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in P.E.I.'s Human Rights Act in 1998. Politicians at the time agreed to the change, but amended the definition of marital status to protect only men and women in traditional heterosexual relationships.
The definition of marriage wasn't changed to protect those in same-sex marriages until 2008, and gender expression and gender identity were added to the Human Rights Act in 2013.
'I fought for that'
Perrot-Sanderson said the movement has changed over the years, as the marches have become more of a celebration.
He noticed the change after taking part in a Pride parade many years after the first march and seeing both the number of those in the parade and the large crowds cheering from the sidelines.
"When we first started to have ... the gay and lesbian march for rights, that's really what our major concern was," Perrot-Sanderson said.
"And then, over the years, that term has become much more inclusive and it's not just about sexuality. It's about gender, and all genders are welcome, and we try to be as absolutely inclusive as we can."
For Berrigan, the march 25 years ago was an important moment for the movement on the Island.
"When I look at all the younger people that are free to date in a same-sex relationship in high school and can talk about that, I'm grateful because their ability to be able to do that, I fought for that and I don't need that recognition from anybody else, but I know that was worthwhile."
The 25th anniversary Pride Parade will take place on Saturday, July 27, in Charlottetown.