“Historic” and a “milestone.”
These are the words Antigonish Town councillor Andrew Murray – an openly gay man – used when describing the flying of the Pride flag from the town hall flag pole for the month of June; “in recognition and celebration of Pride Month,” a passage on the town’s Facebook site, with accompanying photos, reads.
“The Pride flag is seen as a symbol of inclusion in our community, in the ongoing pursuit of equality for anyone who identifies as LGBTQ2 to be heard, understood, accepted and celebrated for who they are,” the passage continues.
“If I were to be told 25 years ago that I would return to my beloved town and become the first openly gay town councillor in Antigonish and, arguably, in the history of Nova Scotia, and that the pride flag would be flying on the town hall flagpole, I would have said that was a most unlikely possibility,” Murray wrote for the flag raising event, unable to attend himself as he was out of province.
“I’m, actually, rather glad that Mayor Laurie [Boucher] is speaking on my behalf as these types of addresses tend to make me rather emotional. We have indeed come a long way. What I have witnessed in the high school, on the university campus and in the town in general, in the area of acceptance and understanding, has been quite phenomenal. For this wonderful progress, I suggest we have to thank our youth. It is never easy to go out on a limb and speak up for what you believe is right, regardless the cause, so I thank all of the youth that I can see pictured here today, with an acknowledgement of our pioneers from our past,” Murray wrote.
Murray added he sees the flag, an international symbol, signifying “acceptance of all cultures, sexual orientations and diversity.”
Sitting down with the Casket June 11, Murray was asked about his decision to run for council three years ago and whether the significance he mentioned in his speech – ‘the first openly gay town councillor in Antigonish and, arguably, in the history of Nova Scotia’ – played any role.
“Who I am as a person was irrelevant in terms of wanting to become a councillor. In no way did I want to run simply because I would be the first of something,” Murray said, noting too he was involved in town committees – planning and beautification – prior to running.
“That being said, I felt fairly confident that would not be a deterrent for being elected.”
He acknowledged, like he did in his speech, being gay may have been an obstacle to getting elected a couple of decades ago.
“I think 25 years ago, 20 years ago, it would have possibly been a deterrent,” he said. “What I’ve seen improve in these last 20 years has been phenomenal in acceptance, understanding of the LGBTQ2 community.”
Murray talked more about his understanding of the significance and why he uses the word “arguably” when talking historically.
“I say arguably because no one has said ‘wait a minute, I was the first openly gay town councillor in the Province of Nova Scotia,’ and I think I would have found out by now, after three years,” he said. “So that was surprising to me; I know we’ve had two gay mayors and I’m sure we’ve had some gay city councillors, but in the distinction of all other town councillors – basically from rural communities. So it’s history making for Antigonish and, maybe, the province on a whole.”
Murray anticipates being challenged on why he would make that point at all.
“Some people will say, ‘why do you feel the need to mention that?’ It’s not for me, it’s … what if there are people, men and women out there, who would be really interested in municipal politics and be very, very good at it, but feel they can’t because of their sexuality? Whether it be the fear of being outed, which is highly likely because politics can be nasty, or they’re out and fear they will not be elected because they are. So there always has to be a first and if I can be an example, that’s something I’m proud of.”
Murray’s emotion – deep appreciation and respect – came out when asked how often his being the first gay councillor is brought up as he goes about the role.
“Never … never once in the community, or in that building … not a hint,” he said, gesturing towards town hall.
“I’m extremely proud and grateful. The fact that, as the first openly gay councillor in the history of Antigonish, to see the Pride flag flying at the office, it is pretty amazing.”