Resistance to LGBTQ community not isolated problems in N.L., says reporter

Recent news out of Middle Arm and Springdale reminds David Maher of his own high-school experience — but the St. John’s reporter says Newfoundlanders and Labradorians shouldn’t fool themselves into thinking the same thing doesn’t happen anywhere else in the province.

Maher, a reporter for the Telegram, graduated from Mobile Central High School on the Avalon Peninsula in 2008. He told CBC’s On the Go that he was late to accept — or even realize — his sexuality because of his experiences as a teenager.

Some parents at a school in Middle Arm pulled their children from a presentation on inclusion, citing religious reasons. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

“Whether it was with my classmates, or whether it was people in the community who were openly gay and they weren’t in a position to stay in the closet, or they chose not to stay in the closet, I saw how those people were treated,” he said, recounting the frequent slurs he heard directed at gay people.

“I thought, OK, well, straight people, that’s what you want to be. You don’t want to be gay, because straight people aren’t subject to those kind of words and those kind of sentiments.”

He held that view through most of his teen years, dating a young woman while in high school. 

As a result, Maher says he avoided becoming a target of the slurs and vitriol he saw aimed at others. It wasn’t until he graduated and came to St. John’s that he met other people who were LGBTQ, and realized that he is gay himself — and that it’s not a big deal.

“I think about how many years that I lost,” he said. “I didn’t come out until I was about 19.”

About mutual respect, not religion

Ten years later, Maher sees some similarities in the small Newfoundland towns now making the news.

Both Middle Arm and Springdale are in areas with a large Pentecostal population. In Middle Arm, many parents who pulled their children from class over a discussion of LGBTQ inclusivity cited their religious faith as the reason for the decision.

It’s important to respect people’s different beliefs, Maher said. But the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District says the Get Real presentation is about mutual respect and rights, not about religion. 

“I’m not sure how many differing opinions one can have about human rights,” he said.

It’s hard to learn in public. It’s difficult, and I think that’s a little bit of what’s happening here.– David Maher

Maher said he doesn’t want to paint entire towns or church congregations with one brush. But according to the LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, most Pentecost denominations have doctrinal statements condemning homosexuality.

“It’s not a church that is accepting to homosexual people, or the entire LGBTQ population in general. It’s not a welcoming church for those people, and I think that that’s evident,” Maher said.

While there may be many individual congregants at those churches who disagree with that stance, the influence can still be felt in areas where that official stance is dominant, he said.

Springdale, Middle Arm not unique

But Maher does think the focus on Springdale or Middle Arm as uniquely having this problem is inaccurate. He points out that he heard homophobic attitudes himself, only a decade ago, just 30 minutes outside St. John’s.

And there are some people in these communities who welcome these new discussions, even if the impetus for them is difficult.

Maher reported on a high school group’s efforts to have a rainbow crosswalk painted in Springdale, and said he spoke to many people who are having conversations about gender and sexuality for the first time.

It’s natural for that process to be difficult, Maher said, especially when it is happening under a microscope.

Some students in Springdale want their council to show support for diversity. (Martin Jones/CBC)

“It’s hard to learn in public,” he said. “It’s difficult, and I think that that’s a little bit of what’s happening here.”

Ultimately, Maher said he hopes that people can work from a position of understanding and openness about other people.

“What’s easy is to be cruel,” he said. “But I want to challenge everybody to be brave enough to be kind. I think that’s the real challenge here for people.”

Resistance to LGBTQ community not isolated problems in N.L., says reporter

Aggregated from: CBC | Newfoundland and Labrador News

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