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Fight for gay rights a long one

Rally organizer says goal generations away

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More than 300 people rallied to support gay rights and Bill 18 at the legislature on Thursday evening. May 16 was International Day Against Homophobia.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

More than 300 people rallied to support gay rights and Bill 18 at the legislature on Thursday evening. May 16 was International Day Against Homophobia. Photo Store

The fight for equal rights for the gay community has come a long way in recent years but there's still a long way to go, a rally organizer said Thursday.

More than 300 people showed up at the steps of the legislature Thursday afternoon to support International Day Against Homophobia and Bill 18, the NDP government's anti-bullying bill.

But despite the gains, the day when such a rally is no longer necessary doesn't appear to be on the horizon, said organizer Chad Smith. Smith said he believes that's still two or three generations away.

"I think we'll get there a lot faster in legislation than in practice. (Legislation) doesn't necessarily mean people's belief systems have changed," he said.

Education Minister Nancy Allan said the NDP government is fully committed to helping create an inclusive province for all.

"We have to stand up against homophobia because we can't be bystanders. Students can't work if they're humiliated, intimidated or marginalized," she said.

Allen encouraged all Manitobans to fight the homophobia web virus as more and more bullying of gay students is occurring on the Internet and via social media, often cloaked in anonymity.

"Bullying has taken on a new form and homophobia is changing. Our laws need to keep up," she said.

Allen also praised gay-straight alliances for making schools safer and more inclusive and she prompted cries of "shame!" when she offered several examples critiquing Bill 18.

Brent Young, who came dressed in a drag outfit honouring the Canadian flag, said it may sound simple to want equality for all but in reality, it's not.

"There are so many uneducated and narrow-minded people that oppose simple freedoms," he said.

Young said he was fascinated by a video that went viral last week in which heterosexual people were asked when they "decided" to go straight. The answers, of course, were unanimous that their sexual orientation wasn't a choice.

"One simple question made them rethink a lot," said Young, who was joined in Canadian flag drag by Bob Burgess.

Jim Rondeau, minister of healthy living, seniors and consumer affairs, told the rally he was proud to be the first openly gay MLA when he was elected in 1999.

"There must have been other gay MLAs that came before me but they must have been afraid (to come out)," he said.

Rondeau said it's crucial for students in the province to feel safe to go to school and attend classes without feeling the fear he felt as a young person.

"It's a fight we need to have and it's a fight we need to win," he said.

Sometimes events far from Manitoba can help the cause, such as NBA basketball player Jason Collins coming out a couple of weeks ago. Smith said his bravery will help break down stereotypes around masculinity and challenge outdated ideas of gay people.

"He also gives LBGT youth somebody to look up to. Now they know they could be a professional athlete," he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2013 A14

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