Pride Month

By: The Hon. Wanda Thomas Bernard

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Hon. Wanda Thomas Bernard: Honourable senators, I rise today, grateful to be on Algonquin Anishinaabe territory, to celebrate Pride Month. Today, I acknowledge the ongoing struggles and triumphs of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community over so many years. But Pride Month is a time to honour the courage, resilience and contributions of individuals who fight for acceptance, equality and equity.

I was inspired by the recent statements from Senator Bellemare and Senator McBean. They highlighted the transformative power of acceptance by family and communities. Their stories reminded me of two former colleagues with very different outcomes that underscore the importance of creating open and supportive environments.

One was the tragic suicide of a colleague with whom I had worked closely. Unbeknownst to us, he struggled with depression as a result of his family rejecting him when he came out to them. The fact that he did not feel safe enough to come out to his colleagues, despite all of us being social workers, was a wake-up call, and it was a profound reminder of the need for all of us to, quite frankly, do better. Today, I honour his memory and the important lesson that his untimely death taught us.

The other story brings me joy. It is a story of immense courage of a social work professor who paved the way for change. Professor Brenda Richard was the first openly gay professor at Dalhousie University, and likely one of the first openly gay social workers in all of Nova Scotia. When I joined the Dalhousie School of Social Work in 1990 as the only person of African descent, Professor Richard and I formed a strong bond as outsiders, and we became allies in the fight for rights.

Professor Richard was an incredible role model and advocate for the queer community, having the courage to be herself when it was not safe to do so. She showed such humility and tenacity as we worked for over 10 years to have the 2SLGBTQIA+ community included in the school’s affirmative action policy. Her actions helped pave the way for changes that we see and experience today. She taught me about being an unwavering ally. She was a great support and a beacon of hope and strength for so many.

Colleagues, please join me in expressing deep appreciation to Professor Brenda Richard who was, in the words of Tina Turner:

. . . simply the best

Better than all the rest . . . .

Thank you.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

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