Review: Before The Parade

Before The Parade cover2019-02-19 • Halifax • Daniel MacKay

Review: Before the Parade

It's more work to create a history that doesn't read, "And this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened." Rebecca Rose has done the extra work to prevent that with her 183 page book of history and stories of the LGB community in Nova Scotia, Before The Parade.

The book launched last month to a standing-room-only crowd at the Halifax Central Library. Let that sink in a moment: over three hundred people at a book launch in Halifax.

There are 33 very short biographies of pioneers in the community in the first chapter. Rose identifies these as her "voices" and we hear their commentaries on hundreds of topics ranging from coming out, racism, and AIDS to women's housing and drag picnics at the beach.

The book mostly reads as if these elders were gathered around a kitchen table, discussing a hundred topics ranging from activism to AIDS to cruising, to the Wild Wimmin's Weekends, and Rose just recorded and transcribed.

But there are a couple of things that belie this appearance: first, there's far less arguing and nitpicking, cross talk and irrelevant chatter than if these old friends had actually been together. Second, and perhaps more importantly, several of them passed away before she ever started the book. The voices of Anne Fulton, Mary Ann Mancini and Jim DeYoung are brought to life with quotes taken from a variety of sources including text, audio and video from the Halifax Rainbow Encyclopedia and a couple other sources. Other interviews were done in person, by phone, and by email – in fact, only a few of these people ever got together in the last few years. Rose has craftily compiled the interviews so that they read as an uncharacteristically amiable conversation.

Black and white photos and scans of publications are sprinkled throughout, from the photo collections and archives of Robin Metcalfe, Jim DeYoung, Anita Martinez and more. There is a block of eight pages of colour photos mid-book.

Rose has included stories from members of the black community; unfortunately inclusion of some stories from the Mik'maw community did not get approved by the Mi'kmaw Ethics Watch in time for publication. Also, in the introduction, Rose tells us why she's mostly used the "LGB" designation rather than a longer or much longer string of the alphabet soup.

The section on HIV and AIDS in the chapter, "Rising Fear, Rising Up" is viscerally painful to read – as it should be. In there you'll find just some of the stories of danger and bravery, of homophobia, persecution, homophobic violence and of a community which has decided that it would not put up with it. And there are lots of stories of love and laughter and music... and of strife within our communities.

Occasionally, the kitchen-table informality of using just the first names of her "voices" gets in the way; you'll be halfway through a chapter and see a quote from "Jim" and have to go hunting back to figure out which that was; it's made more confusing by there being voices from, for example, Diann and Diane. And two topics close to my heart, the Over Thirties social group, which later re-formed to the Elderberries, and the Billetting Service (with the motto "you don't have to put out to be put up" which was not quite true) are left out; possibly due to an oversight, possibly due to salacious content.

At the end, Rebecca Rose makes a promise: "This is not the last I will be writing about our 2SLGBTQIA+ histories." I'm sure that elders, history buffs and fans of crystal clear writing will hold her to that.The book was published without an index, but Halifax Rainbow Encyclopedia volunteers promptly produced one, including an index to the photos, here:

Before The Parade is available at booksellers everywhere at the moment, and will be indefinitely from its publisher, Nimbus. Halifax Libraries currently has seven copies (all checked out) but when it is on the shelf, you'll find it on the nonfiction shelves at 306.760: Sexual orientation, gender identity.

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