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Change is everyone's responsibility - Rally against homophobia and transphobia

by Stephanie Taylor

More than 100 people rallied at Speak Up & Speak Out, an event organized by the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, in recognition of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.  Photo Stephanie Taylor
Photo Stephanie Taylor
Members of the NSRAP Youth Project. Photo Stephanie Taylor
Photo Stephanie Taylor
Photo Stephanie Taylor
Scott Jones addresses the crowd. Photo Stephanie Taylor

K'JIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) – For Scott Jones, the way to end homophobia is to talk about it. 

“It’s just so easy, right,” the 27-year-old told the crowd gathered at Wednesday’s anti-homophobia and transphobia rally. “If you hear something that’s ignorant, homophobic or transphobic, please have the courage to open up a discussion about what was said.” 

Jones was one of the six speakers who addressed the more than 100 people who rallied at Speak Up & Speak Out, an event organized by the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, in recognition of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17th.  

The crowd of LGBTQ members and community allies cheered Jones as he shared his personal story of overcoming the fear that before made it difficult for him to talk openly about homophobia. He rallied on behalf of his campaign Don’t be Afraid, an anti-homophobia organization that he started last October, while he was hospitalized from a stabbing that left him paralyzed.

“ We’ve come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go,” said  Kate Shewan,  the rally’s co-organizer and vice-president of the rainbow action project. She hoped Wednesday’s event would increase peoples’ awareness and open their eyes to the issues that are affecting the trans community everyday.  

Changing immigration policies to allow for more LBGTQ asylum seekers to gain refugee status and improvements to transgender health care were two calls for change speakers put forth. 

In April, the province announced it would extend health coverage for eight types of gender reassignment surgeries.  The decision was a big step for trans healthcare, but Shewan says there is still a major lack of support for people during the lead up to surgery. One of her main concerns is the shortage of staff to assist patients through the assessment and counselling process. 

Making it easier  for Nova Scotians to change the gender markers on their identification is the next step in fighting discrimination, said trans activist Jessica Durling.  The first year University of King’s College student has collected more than 400 signatures on her petition that asks government identification and medical records to honour someone’s chosen gender identity, not their birth sex. 

“We need to make it that transgendered people live as their preferred gender, free from discrimination and free from outings with things like buying a pack a cigarettes because of the sexual identity on their ID's,” Durling said. 

Shewan believes young people are going to be the voice of change for the future. She says increasing the education of LGBTQ issues in schools will lead to better acceptance and understanding of the diversity of gender identities. 

Members of the Youth Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping teens deal with gender identity issues, challenged Wednesday’s crowd to stand up for queer students. 

“ There’s a lot of fear and a lot of intolerance in schools,” said 18-year-old Youth Project member Josh Jenkins. “It’s really difficult, especially for people who are coming to terms with who they are.” 

It is everyone’s responsibility to stop the fear and discrimination of gay and trans people was the rally’s overwhelming message.  At the end of the event  Jones asked the crowd to gather around him and pose for a picture, holding different coloured pieces of paper representing the pride flag, to show that change takes a community.  

“ We talk about (homophobia and transphobia) here, but we need to be able to talk about it elsewhere, Jones said. “When we leave this rally we need to be individual ambassadors for our community.”

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