Though some may see P.E.I. as a progressive utopia full of LGBTQ+ pride and acceptance, a couple of recent incidents have turned some heads. Intolerance and transphobia seem to be growing on the Island.
In early February, the Morell Consolidated Home and School association in Eastern P.E.I. petitioned gender diversity guidelines that were passed in December 2021. The petition circulating requests that the Minister of Education provides scientific proof of the need for a gender diversity policy, as well as allowing parents to have their children opt-out.
“Even if, in the opinion of the Minister, these Guidelines are justified,” the petition reads, “the Minister will recognize that parents, assuming their moral responsibility to act as the primary educators of their children, will decide whether or not their children will participate in the program."
The guidelines in question emphasize the need for respect, accommodation, and support of diverse gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation in an effort to make schools a safer environment for all students. These guidelines are a set of standards, not a program.
The P.E.I.’s Public Schools Branch, which represents and runs all of the island's English language schools, responded with a statement which points out that "While a parent is able to bring an agenda item or motion forward, this does not mean it is reflective of the entire school community or its staff and should not be assumed as such."
Another example of intolerance came up recently when King’s Playhouse in Georgetown, P.E.I. was forced to postpone a drag queen storytelling event. This was after a barrage of internet attacks on Trey Yeo, a drag performer and producer who performs under the drag persona, Treyla Parktrash. The event was intended to foster inclusivity and acceptance for gender diversity but was met with hate. An online poster advertising the event was altered and circulated with the word “grooming” on it. King’s Playhouse cautiously postponed the event indefinitely for the safety of the performers and children.
UPDATE: the event has been rescheduled to April 15th! Here's the FB event link.
Paul MacNeill, renowned journalist and publisher of Island Press Limited, recently wrote an opinion piece called “Haters will never win” on the matter, in which he shared his disappointment in the Island community. He had attended a drag show with his daughters earlier in the year and enjoyed his experience, excited at what the positivity towards drag performers meant for P.E.I.’s progression towards diversity acceptance.
“That positive feeling is now delayed at King’s Playhouse because of hatred spewed by social media trolls with nothing better to do than throw innuendo-laden vitriol at a planned drag queen storytime show for children,” he wrote, “We should respect anyone with a sincere belief in whatever religion gives them peace. But when religion is weaponized to promote hate, it crosses a line. If people don’t support a drag show in Georgetown, just don’t go.”
These two incidents of bigotry and intolerance have reminded the Island that there is still a lot of work to do in making P.E.I. a safe, inclusive, and accepting environment.
Organizations such as PEERS Alliance is working to make strides in cultivating a stigma-free, inclusive Island and offer a venue to donate or volunteer to support this cause.
Rachel Bartlett, a youth program coordinator at PEERS Alliance, encourages Maritimers to educate themselves on issues in the LGBTQ+ community in the following statement: “It is disappointing and concerning to see the increase in overt transphobia and homophobia on the Island. The rising retaliation to diversity and equity initiatives demonstrates a need for more education and community support. Education is key. When people do not understand something, it can cause fear and discomfort, and it is easy to respond with hatred. If you want to know more but need a place to start, PEERS Alliance offers a range of age- appropriate presentations and resources for those who want to learn how to increase inclusivity and better understand the 2SLGBTQ+ community."
PEERS went on to say that those in the LGBTQ+ community are not alone and that it is also essential during these times for allies to speak up in support of diversity and equity initiatives.
Dave Stewart, activist and Q historian and filmmaker on Island, has worked alongside PEERS Alliance and has high hopes for the progression of diversity inclusion on P.E.I.: “PEI has, in my lifetime, never been about only one kind of person. It's taken some of us a long time to feel safe enough to be our true selves, but we're there now. Those who fight to return to a cis-het, white settler way of life have always been living in a fool's paradise,” he said, “Despite the myths we like to propagate, it's time to bury this false notion of what we've been taught an Islander is. This was Indigenous land before we came, with a long history attached. Islanders are so much more than white, straight and Christian. It's time we acknowledge and accept it. My Island for everyone.”
Additional resources such as P.E.I. Transgender Network and Our Landing Place queer- centred therapy collective are always available for those in need of support.