The Underground LGBTQ+ Activists that are Paving a New Road


Pride month is underway at StFX and it has been a very successful and exciting time. During Pride month at StFX there are many high-profile names of LGBTQ+ advocates that come up.

Along with the advocates that you may see in the media all the time, there are underground activists that are helping pave the way for new generations in the LGBTQ+ community; advocates that sometimes go unmentioned.

A man named Xulhaz Mannan is certainly an LGBTQ+ activist that has changed the lives of many. Mannan is the force behind “Roopbaan,” Bangladesh’s first and only LGBTQ+ themed magazine.

Mannan was openly gay and a big supporter of the LGBTQ+ community while he worked in the human rights sector in Bangladeshi. Mannan used to organize the annual ‘Rainbow Rally’ which started in 2014. 

For the first time ever, Bangladesh displayed a human rainbow during the Bengali New Years celebrations. And since it wasn’t perceived as having any connection to LGBTQ+ the organizers were given the green light.

Participants were asked to dress in a different colour of the rainbow and they paraded throughout the city. It gave members of the LGBTQ+ community the ability to be able to flaunt who they are without being harmed or feeling threatened in any way. In doing so, Mannan gave hope to those that feared about being their true self.

 Since homosexual relationships are illegal in Bangladesh, many people who are within the LGBTQ+ community are forced into exile. Mannan gave people in the LGBTQ+ community hope, and the power of being able to be open with their own sexuality.

Tragically, Mannan was murdered in his apartment along with another LGBTQ+ activist, Mahbub Rabbi. The death of Mannan was heartbreaking and sent a clear message to the LGBTQ+ community in Bangladeshi: that their sexuality is not tolerated among certain people, causing them to live in fear. Yet, Mannan showed courage and hope, and he died being his true self.

Mannan’s strength and force of hope should be an inspiration for all.

Two other individuals that are big supporters and activists within the LGBTQ+ community are Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon.

I was introduced to these two individuals in my Sex and Gender class last semester by the amazing prof, Dr. Lisa Pasolli.

Ivan Coyote is a Canadian spoken word performer writer and LGBTQ+ advocate. Coyote has written countless novels, short stories, and spoken at TED Talks about their experience in the LGBTQ+ community.

Coyote in non-binary and prefers to go by the pronouns of ‘they’. Most of Coyote’s work is focused on issues with gender, identity and social justice.

Coyote also co-wrote a novel with Canadian singer/song writer, Rae Spoon. Their novel is entitled, “Gender Failure”. As a side note, Rae is an amazing musician and I highly recommend checking out their music.

For a decade, Rae Spoon identified as a transgender man, but in 2012 during an interview Rae came out saying that they now preferred to be called by the pronoun, ‘they’.

Both Ivan and Rae have acknowledged that they have struggled with fitting into the gender binaries that are put in place within society.

The two of them together are an inspiration for all; they talk about issues of what it was like growing up outside of the normal gender boundaries and the criticisms that they both faced. They have also challenged the transgender community when they both decided to not take hormones for treatment, offering discussion on the many layers of their experience. 

Their work has challenged the ideas of what makes a ‘man’, and what happens when you find yourself not falling into the particular gender binaries; thus, sparking the discussion of what constitutes of being a ‘man’.

Their advocacy of the LGBTQ+ community has sparked many discussions, and has given hope to those that feel the same way.

Another one of my favourite female LGBTQ+ advocates is Sara Ahmed. I was also introduced to her by StFX professor, Dr. Nancy Forestell. Ahmed is a British-Australian scholar who has worked in the fields of feminist theory, queer theory, critical race theory and postcolonialism.

The work and research that Ahmed has done has provided countless new information for the LGBTQ+ community and she was awareded the 2017 Kessler Award for the impact her research has left on the queer community. 

Women like Sara Ahmed are doing some of the most important research in the 21st century. Her work is giving courage and hope to others to follow in her footsteps to continue the research in this field of study.

One of Ahmed’s works, “Unhappy Queers”, explores queer politics of unhappiness. She addresses issues that often lack the appropriate attention such as the overuse of heterosexual happiness in the way relationships are portrayed.

The piece is well worth the read and sheds light on how society perceives happiness, or unhappiness in association to non-heterosexual relationships.

An LGBTQ+ advocate that is closer to home here in Antigonish is Andrew Murray whom I had the pleasure of meeting Pride Month vigil.

Murray is the first openly gay councillor in Nova Scotia who’s engagement in the community has extended to Theatre Antigonish, the Neptune Theatre and various other companies around the world as a set designer.

At the vigil, it was very inspiring to hear Andrew talk about his life growing up in the 70s and 80s as a gay man. What I found to be the most inspiring part about Andrew was his enthusiasm and his beautiful positive attitude.

Andrew certainly faced more than his fair share of struggles growing up yet he always stayed positive, and kept going on in life, continuously trying to be the best version of himself.

To me, Andrew is a ray of light. What I learned from him the most was, no matter what happens in life, always be proud of who you are, if that’s gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, lesbian, or however you identify, be your true self.

In my opinion, Andrew is probably one of the most influential people in Antigonish; his advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community is so important in a small town like this. If you ever see him setting up the window displays on Main Street, I’d highly recommend stopping to say hello.