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Book review: Before the Parade is a must-read on gay, lesbian and bisexual resistance in Halifax

Mary Ann Mancini protesting in the 1970’s outside the CBC building when they refused to air community announcements regarding 2SLGBTQ issues. .

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) -Before the Parade, A History of Halifax’s Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Communities, 1972-19784 is a book not to be missed. Written by queer feminist writer and activist Rebecca Rose it tells the story of 2SLGBTQ+ activism and resistance in Halifax in the seventies and early eighties. 

Rebecca approaches the topic as both a historian and a journalist. She spent endless hours in archives and going through boxes of documents and photos in people’s attics. But she also talked to many people who were there at the time. It’s those conversations with courageous (and often very funny)  activists that make reading the book such a pleasure and moving experience.

The period covered in the book was in a way of course a horrible time for LGBTQ people. It’s hard to imagine how bad it was. Because of your sexual preference you could get beat up, you could lose your job, you could even have your children taken away. But despite the difficult times and a thousand reasons to not make waves, people resisted, formed tight and loving communities, partied and cruised, and often became activists for a better future.

See also: night cemetery, a poem by Robin Metcalfe

The book started as an in depth article Rebecca wrote for the Coast in 2016. I remember reading it and thinking there were the beginnings of a book there, and thankfully Nimbus publishing saw it too. It’s good to have a local press and local book publishers who recognize that this kind of writing is important. 

That long article in the Coast set the stage for the entire book, with chapters on the very early days with its hush-hush gay bars, as well as early organizing efforts, the lesbian movement, and the central place in the community occupied by the Turret on Barrington Street. 

Throughout Rebecca makes sure not to write a history of just gay white men. Black and Indigenous voices are part of the movement, as are lesbians, and the political tensions within and between these groups are dealt with.        

“It’s easy to romanticize in retrospect, but being in community didn’t mean we didn’t scream and yell at each other and have horrible fights,” Robin Metcalfe tells Rebecca. 

Halifax is shaped not just by the powerful and rich, but equally by the people who fought back, be they workers, African Nova Scotians, Mi’kmaq, poor people, or the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities featured here. That history of resistance is not reflected in our statues and street names, and it isn’t what is taught in schools. Books like Rebecca’s push back against these formal narratives. 

Before the Parade is a very important book, and it arrived just in time. The people featured in this history are getting old, and their generation isn’t going to be around that much longer. Their voices must be captured now or they will forever be forgotten. 

Rebecca will be the first to tell you that this isn’t a complete and definitive work, even in terms of the mere 12 years it covers in just one small city. 

“I know that when this book is released into the world, it will bring forth an untold number of stories that I was unable to capture here,” she writes. “I know that this is not the last I will be writing about our 2SLGBTQIA+ histories; I have a feeling that this will be my life’s work, and I am okay with that.”

Now that is excellent news.   

There will be a book launch of Before the Parade this Monday January 13, at 7 PM, at the Central Library. Check the Facebook event here.

See also: A tribute to Mary Ann Mancini

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