Stronger than ever

Photo: Submitted

Halifax Pride returns, spotlighting radiant resilience, inclusiveness, and lessons from the pandemic

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fter a year and a half of challenges and uncertainty, Halifax Pride is roaring back. With this year’s theme as Radiant Resilience, the festival runs from Aug. 12 to 22.

“Throughout our history, we recognize that our community has faced extreme extra burdens as a result of housing and employment insecurity and mental health struggle,” says Halifax Pride executive director Adam Reid. “We see Pride as a time always for some healing, as we gather as a community, as we celebrate our achievements and continue to advocate for change. We want to remind people that they are part of a resilient community; even when they don’t feel strong, that strength is all around them. Strength sometimes looks like giving support, and also sometimes it’s almost like asking for support.”

On the heels of a successful hybrid event in 2020, organizers wanted to explore more ways to host smaller in-person events. Despite not having the parade or some of the larger scale dance parties, there will be entertainment on the Garrison Grounds.

“Every night, there’ll be some live events as well as active living events, closed space hangouts and our Lecture Series online, so really, there’s a wide variety of things,” he says. “Although the parade isn’t possible this year, we feel that anyone coming to the festival is going to find meaningful ways to celebrate and mark Pride.”

The calendar includes drag bingo, trivia night, comedy night, a night of live music headlined with local queer artists, interpersonal gatherings, and hangouts.

Chair and programming committee lead Frances Dadin-Alli says this year’s theme will shine throughout programming and events.

Frances Dadin-Alli. Photo: Submitted

“COVID has played a huge role in everyone’s life; we have mental health issues here and there,” she says. “In the community, we struggle through challenges being queer, and on top of that challenge, then you have COVID, so it’s viewed as a barrier. It builds a lot of anxiety, abuse, and stress; some people lost their jobs, and many negative things have come … This is a way for us to say we are strong, be positive, and a way to uplift other people that don’t have hope that was lost. That’s the thing this year, generated from just a struggle to the pains we’ve all gone through and picking up ourselves.”

Dadin-Alli says some events are tailored towards immigrants based on her own experiences, moving to Halifax from Nigeria 11 years ago.

“Being an immigrant and having skilled immigrants on the board, we’re more diverse,” she says. “This is something I’m excited about, something I look forward to, and I’m hoping that the events that we’re putting out there are a way to help other immigrants. It’s a way to say we all think about immigrants, not just queers in Canada.”

The youth from the gender and sexuality alliances at the MacPhee Centre for Creative Learning are this year’s festival ambassadors. A non-profit training centre based in Dartmouth, its mission is using art to empower youth by connecting passion with purpose.

“As soon as the pandemic hit, they shifted to make sure that they were supporting queer youth, particularly, especially during COVID, they stepped up with online programming,” Reid says. “They expanded their GSA, so their gender and sexuality alliances, from one group to four different groups … We’ve been working with them on a number of events this year, so they’re helping out with youth, elder, storytelling, and they are helping with our youth hangout event. They’re hosting their events, and they’ll be speaking at flag raising.”

Halifax Pride is a celebration, but also continues to provide an opportunity to amplify and lift marginalized voices. Those include transgender people, non-binary people, two-spirit people, and people of colour. The programming at this year’s festival reflects that diversity and inclusiveness.

“We have a great working relationship with the Wabanaki Two-Spirit Alliance,” Reid says. “They will be hosting a Two-Spirit space on the festival site again … We have a QTBIPOC showcase. We also have QTBIPOC hangouts. These activities are led by our QTBIPOC community and our amazing leads and honoured that Halifax Pride this year is our chair and our vice-chair happen to be queer Black women leading this work. We’re honored to have them in such great roles and leading this team.”

Kehisha Wilmot is the Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island Coordinator of the Wabanaki Two-Spirit Alliance. For this year’s festival, they are leading the planning of the Two-Spirit space located at the festival site at Garrison Grounds.

“One of the big things around why we work with Halifax Pride is we want to make an inclusive space that is also culturally aware,” they say. “We wanted to host spaces in the future and our connection with the community to help bring in some of that education.”

One of the events is a Noon-Hour Panel Series on Two-Spirit Identities and Expression. Wilmot will moderate, joined by Calen Sack, Kassidy Bernard, and Vie Jones. Other events include workshops for people to understand the terminology, a beading workshop and storytelling sessions.

“It’s more of like a collective sharing healing space on how we’re going to bring people together, and we’re going to have conversations about where people are, where people have been going and how they found themselves,” they say. “We want to give space to start bringing the community back together because COVID has separated a lot of people from are holding the event twice so that more people have accessibility to come, enjoy that part of that story and less experience sharing.”

While the city and province have made small advancements in diversity and inclusion, festival organizers feel that more education, listening and action are needed to make real change and progress.

Photo: Submitted

“If we are questioning whether marginalized, QTBIPOC, or African Nova Scotian communities are receiving enough support, all we need to do is listen to them,” Reid says. “We hear loud and clear that no, these communities continue to feel left behind. They continue to feel that they are bearing the brunt of housing insecurity, unemployment challenges and environmental racism … It’s on us to ensure that we are identifying ways in our lives, and through work into our social contacts, to identify how we support these groups and how we unlearn the system and the habits that continue to perpetuate this disparity.”

Wilmot echoes Reid’s sentiments.

“One of the big things that happen is society looks, and they’re like, ‘well, it’s always been this way,'” they say. “It’s not, and it’s always been this way because that’s what the colonial-based education system has taught you. A lot of people are pushing back because they’re like, ‘well, that’s not what I was taught.’ The problem is the education you received, has mostly been full of lies, and alterations. If we actually taught the population about what has happened, we put more understanding and empathy into our education, which would help make progress as we move forward with generation.”

The goal is always to create safe spaces, where people can gather to celebrate and reflect on their queer identities and culture in ways that are diverse and meaningful, Wilmot adds: “It’s an opportunity to continue to listen, grow, learn and identify ways we can make this festival its resources, better serve the community that makes sense.”

Dadin-Alli feels that people in the queer community need to come out and support each other. A starting point would be more representation on Halifax Pride’s Board.

“I want people to take that leap of faith to come out to volunteer,” she says. “it’s only work in progress because a few people have stepped up and stepped in to make it a better place. I would love to see someone who identifies as a two-spirit person on the board. I would love to see different backgrounds, different ideas.”

Ultimately, festival organizers are hopeful everyone finds a personally meaningful way to celebrate Pride. “For us, as always, it’s an opportunity to continue to listen, grow, learn,” Reid says. “And identify ways we can make this festival and its resources better serve the community.”

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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