The North has come a long way in just over a decade in its support of the LGBTQ community and their rights.

Fifteen years ago, MLAs were standing in the legislative assembly and saying ‘no!’ to gay adoptions. It was only 12 years ago that same-sex marriage was legalized in the NWT.

In 2002, Zoe Raemer, a founder of the gay and lesbian rights group Out North, expressed relief when Bill 5 was finally passed in the legislative assembly but also disappointment with the overall level of debate leading up to it. The bill legalized gay adoptions in the territory.

“I found it interesting listening to the debate where members themselves, including (David) Krutko, (Leon) Lafferty, and others said, if this bill passed they would be embarrassed to be members of the legislative assembly,” said Raemer. “I have to say that in some cases I’m embarrassed to have them as members of my legislature.”

Dissenting MLAs fought to the bitter end, trying to refer the legislation back to committee before finally reaching third reading. Ultimately they ran out of room to maneuver. And although the bill passed 10-to-1, with Hay River North’s Paul Delorey the lone vote of dissent, four other MLAs walked out of the assembly in protest.

Hay River South’s Jane Groenewegen, Mackenzie Delta’s David Krutko, and North Slave’s Leon Lafferty, “voted with their feet, and left before the third and final reading vote.”

Samantha McKay/NNSL photo
Jasmine Keogak, left, Jill Nugent, and Katelynn Crocker of the Aurora Gay-Straight Alliance club at East Three Secondary School are preparing to host their first pride parade in Inuvik on April 21.

In 2005, now retired NWT senator and former premier Nick Sibbeston penned a letter to News/North vowing he would vote against Bill C-38 that would approve same-sex marriage nationwide. His letter stated same-sex lifestyles “are not common in the North and our ancestors would frown on such activities and would view it as unnatural.”

This was the climate at the time, not that long ago. Powerful politicians did not hesitate to voice their disapproval of LGBTQ aspirations toward acceptance. Consequently, many in the community, especially youth, lived in the shadows.

It is therefore remarkable how quickly the tide has turned and that LGBTQ residents have found their voice – and support from the community-at-large.

Groups such as the Aurora Gay-Straight Alliance in Inuvik, led by Jasmine Keogak, Jill Nugent and Katelynn Crocker, are the next generation taking small ideas and seeing them grow into community events with unexpected support.

That’s no easy task in some smaller communities where acceptance toward same-sex partnerships has been slower to come.

As was noted in the editorial in the Feb. 1 Inuvik Drum, elected members of community councils supporting LGBTQ youth groups is “incredibly important.” The youth need to know they are supported because it helps fight those stigmas that still exist in northern communities. It shows the younger generation they do have a network of support, where it has often been lacking.

These young people should be congratulated for having the courage to move forward regardless of the negatives they face. It is important to allow youth to create a space, where they can interrelate with each other as gay and straight humans in a positive environment of understanding – a space where young people aren’t bullied or marginalized because of their orientation.

A 2007 study showed 33 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth have attempted suicide – five times as many as their heterosexual peers. A 2010 study showed 19 per cent of transgender youth had attempted suicide within the previous year.

With the NWT’s suicide rate at twice the national average there is still plenty of work to do to ensure youth feel safe and supported.

Support for groups such as Aurora Gay-Straight Alliance means a much brighter future.

Readers Write:

It takes a village to raise a child

From: Allan Cleary,
Yellowknife, NT

Dear editor,
Cece McCauley’s column is always great reading!

My living and deceased missionary family members would love to read her latest column (There are two sides to every story, News/North Jan. 29). They dedicated their lives to feeding, nursing and educating the poor. Not to taking advantage of people like a few people did.

Re: (Lawrences’s notes, not sour at all, News/North Jan. 29). I fail to see the author’s connection between his failed marriage and his residential school experience. I grew up in a near perfect home situation and I failed two marriages.

As for the suicide rate among our youth – the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. That’s a better place to look for the culprit than in the past.

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