Pride in Bridgewater

by Michael Lee

  • <p>MICHAEL LEE PHOTO</p><p>From left, Rev. Neil McEwen of West Side United Church and Coleen O&#8217;Neil watch as Mayor of Bridgewater David Walker raises the rainbow flag for the first time in town history.</p>
  • <p>MICHAEL LEE PHOTO</p><p>From left, Rev. Neil McEwen of West Side United Church, Coleen O&#8217;Neil, mayor of Bridgewater David Walker and mayor of the Municipality of Lunenburg Don Downe celebrate the raising of the rainbow flag in Bridgewater for the first time.</p>

The symbol of LGBT identity, the rainbow flag, is flying over Bridgewater for the first time in the town's history.

Kicking off Pride Week on July 16, dozens of people of all ages came to Shipyards Landing to witness the flag raising and to offer their support to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) community.

The suggestion to raise the flag was brought to town council by Coleen O'Neil, who lives just outside of Bridgewater.

After seeing the town of Shelburne raise the rainbow flag for the first time last year, O'Neil sent an e-mail to Bridgewater mayor David Walker requesting the same be done here.

"What I can tell you is that, as a parent, it means a lot to me to ... drive by and see it fly," she said.

"But I think it, especially for our youth, lets them know that this is an inclusive town."

Walker, who participated in the flag raising along with Municipality of Lunenburg mayor Don Downe, said the idea came up even before he received the request from O'Neil. The West Side United Church in Pentz had requested that the flag be raised during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi as a response to the anti-gay policies of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

However, there wasn't enough time to get the logistics in order to have the flag fly during the games, and a policy had to be implemented first.

This makes O'Neil the first individual to request a flag be flown under the town's new flag-flying policy.

"It's a good one to be the first one," Walker said of the rainbow flag, adding it sends a message across the province about Bridgewater's desire to be inclusive, accepting and understanding.

He said a flagpole on King Street, within the planned downtown revitalization area, will be used for future initiatives.

Walker said even those who don't share these particular views should be respectful and "Christian-like" as communities everywhere continue to evolve.

"Despite of my 66 years, I know that there's an awful lot of things that I don't fully understand and I'm confident that when the funeral director comes to see me, there will still be some things I won't fully understand."

However, Walker said this is still a good step to take as other communities also accept those with different views or sexual orientations.

Rev. Neil McEwan of West Side United Church in Pentz came to offer his support and to give his insight on an event he said made history in Bridgewater.

"When I think about the raising of the pride flag here, it's necessary. Some may not say it is necessary, but I believe it's entirely and utterly important."

The church is an affirming congregation, meaning it has gone through the process of being designated as an inclusive community for LGBT people.

McEwan said it's important to let people know they are appreciated.

The rainbow flag currently flies over their church signpost every Sunday morning, and for special events, to let people know they can come and express their "joy of being in a community where they are accepted and where they are loved."

"And if one person sees this flag and their life is changed and impacted and touched then we've made a difference. We've done a good thing."

Church member Mary MacGregor heard about the event through West Side United and thought it was a "wonderful idea."

"I hope it means awareness that there's a means for support and welcoming and creating a safe space."

Allie Jewers, who works at the Sexual Health Centre in Lunenburg, said the event shows how supportive the town can be, especially of those who live in rural areas.

"Because, being from a rural area myself, we don't do this. But it's really good to see it here especially."

Julie Veinot, executive director of the centre, said local support groups such as the new South Shore LGBT centre at Freeman House in Bridgewater are also available.

The rainbow flag will fly throughout Pride Week and will be taken down on July 26.

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