Author spotlight: Rebecca Rose

Rebecca Rose is a Cape Breton-born queer femme writer and activist who lives in Dartmouth with her partner and cat.

A Ryerson Journalism graduate, she is the author of Before the Parade: A History of Halifax’s Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Communities (1972-1984), published by Nimbus Publishing. Rebecca has been shortlisted for The Evelyn Richardson Non-Fiction Award for Before the Parade.

Having bounced back and forth between Nova Scotia and Toronto Rebecca has written for publications such as: The Coast, Xtra, OurTimes magazine, Rabble.ca, and OUT: Queer Looking, Queer Acting Revisited. She most often writes about Queer and Trans people and communities, misogyny and rape culture, various social movements, and politics (mostly when it makes her angry).

Congratulations on getting your first book published and congratulations on getting nominated for the Evelyn Richardson Creative Non-Fiction Award.

Thank you! I didn’t even know that I was in the running for the award and so it was a pleasant surprise. It is an especially welcome boost after a year and a bit of pandemic book promotion.

Was Before the Parade: A History of Halifax’s Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Communities 1972-1984 a book you had to write?

Yes, in retrospect it seems like everything was leading towards me writing this book. I am a long-time 2SLGBTQIA plus community organizer and activist — I was involved with the provincial advocacy group NSRAP and a founding member of the Halifax Dyke and Trans March — and since around 2016 I have been writing about 2SLGBQ histories in Nova Scotia.

The article that really started me on the path towards Before the Parade was a profile of lesbian activist Anne Fulton for The Coast after she passed away in 2015. The lack of attention that her death garnered outside of her immediate circles led me to write that article and then the original Before the Parade which also ran in the Coast and told more stories of early LGBQ community and activism in Halifax.

Can you talk about the title, the “Before the Parade” part?

I actually can’t take any credit for the title, which I love. “Before the Parade” came from The Coast’s former news editor Jacob Boon and editor and Kyle Shaw. They graciously let me use it for the book.

Why the time period, 1972-1984? Can you see writing a sequel?

The book starts in and around 1972 because that is the year that the first gay and lesbian advocacy organization in Nova Scotia, the Gay Alliance for Equality, was founded. There obviously have always been Two Spirit, same sex loving, and gender non-con forming people throughout Mi’kma’ki, but this was the first known group that organized around advocating for gay and lesbian and later bisexual people in this province. I ended in 1984 because that’s when the AIDS epidemic really started to take hold and there was an uptick in AIDS activism. It did not feel like I could cover everything from 1972 until then, plus those years of the AIDS pandemic adequately. There is also the AIDS Activist History Project that includes interviews with activists from Nova Scotia, so I knew that that part of the story was being documented via another medium.

I think that researching, writing, and talking about local 2SLGBTQIA+ histories will be my life’s work. I am not currently planning to write a sequel as after six years of freelancing I have full-time employment and I am recovering from a concussion, which doesn’t lend itself to writing a book! I wrote also Before the Parade without any money from granting councils and on a freelancers wage living in Toronto, which — to be honest — I found really difficult. I am not sure I would write another book without some sort of funding.

What are some of the major turning points you explore in your book?

The one I have been thinking about the most lately is in around 1971 in 1972 when through local gay bars and unofficial gay hangouts, cruising, and lesbian house parties, 2SLGBQT+ people in Halifax in Nova Scotia started to realize that they weren’t the only ones “like this.” Once they realized that there were more people like them out there they were able to come together and create the strength in numbers they needed to make a change, via the Gay Alliance for Equality (to start). One founding member of the GAE talked part of the impetus for starting the Alliance was to counter gay bashing, which no one person could do on their own.

Tell me about the research for the book. What were some of the challenges you encountered? Joys?

I absolutely love researching and my biggest challenge is knowing when to stop. I have always been interested in local 2SLGBTQIA+ histories, read our history books (what is out there) and squirrelled away a little bits and pieces of archival material. But I seriously started researching those histories for the article “Before the Parade” in 2016.

I included Interviews with more than 30 2SLGBTQIA+ activist elders for the book, but have about 50 more names on my spreadsheet of people who I would like to talk but wasn’t able to before my deadline, for a variety of reasons.

The joys are too many. I think the biggest is knowing that our 2SLGB elders felt seen and acknowledged. In writing the book I was under the impression that one of the founding members of the Gay Alliance for Equality, Tommy Miller/drag queen Sugar, had already passed away. After the book came out I was contacted by someone on Twitter who said that her uncle was in the book and that they were both really touched, that he never thought of that as a gay person he would be recognized in this way, and it turns out that it was Tommy Miller. He was sick and dying of cancer but I was able to interview him before he passed. Tommy was one of Halifax’s first drag queens.

What did you edit out of this book?

Anyone who has ever read or edited my writing knows that I have a reputation for being “thorough“ and so we edited a lot out!

What was it like to launch a book during the pandemic? What has the response been like from the community you write about?

I was very fortunate to launch the book in January 2020, just months before the pandemic took hold. The event at the Halifax Central Library was one of the best but also most overwhelming nights of my life. Around 300 people attended and the front rows were filled with 2SLGBQ elders – many of whom are in the book – as well as my entire extended family. I was either in or close to tears most of the night. I sustained a concussion actually just before that event, but didn’t know it yet, and so even before the pandemic hit my ability to promote was curtailed. I definitely had quite a few speaking gigs and book events canceled. For example, I still haven’t been able to launch it in Cape Breton, where I was born. Once the pandemic has settled down, I really look forward to touring the book around the rest of Nova Scotia including Sydney and new Glasgow where I’ve been in touch with folks.

Today, what are some of the challenges still faced by this community? What are some of the delights? (Or, what are some good things about being part of this community in Halifax?)

I’m not as tapped into the 2SLGBTQIA+ community as I used to be – I kind of did the classic “lesbian“ thing and retreated to the hills of Dartmouth with my partner – and with the pandemic there obviously have not been as many occasions for us to gather off of the internet.

A lot of leading voices in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, not only in Halifax but across Turtle Island, are Black folks who are very involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, and so police violence (which is also a through line for 2SLGBTQIA+ history) is obviously front of mind for many. I also know that healthcare for a Transgender folks is still not sufficient. Though not every Trans person wants to get surgery, there are still many surgeries or treatments that are not covered by MSI. Also top of mind for many during this pandemic is long-term care, and in this case care that is safe and culturally appropriate for 2SLGBTQIA+ seniors.

What does the Halifax Pride parade mean to you?

I actually, like many 2SLGBTQIA+ folks have a complicated relationship with the Pride festival and Pride parade. I am of the opinion that Pride festivals around the world, including in Halifax, have become too corporate and too focused on growth at the expense of the needs of the community. I am also critical of the police involvement and pinkwashing associated with many Pride festivals. However I know that for some folks who came of age in the 60s, 70s, and 80s the fact that pride festivals have become so big, so popular outside of the Queer and Trans community and with corporations is something they could never have dreamed of. 

That all being said, I do love the feeling of being in a sea of Queer and Trans folks and celebrating – the victories, our history, our resilience, our community, our identities – together.

What is your favorite colour of the rainbow?

I actually famously dislike primary colors and so traditionally resisted the rainbow flag. I prefer the progress flag with the black and brown stripes as well as the pink, blue, and white pastel Trans flag stripes.

What is your favorite novel with LGBT themes or characters?

One of the most formative novels for me is Stone Butch Blues by butch and Trans icon Leslie Feinberg.

What is it like to be bald?

I actually have a lot of hair, it is just very short! At this moment in my life, my shaved head feels integral to the expression of my sexuality and gender. I love spotting other bald femmes around town, when we were allowed to be around town. Some men, however, use it to start chatting me up or hitting on me, which I do not love.

What is your favorite scent?

Black tea, the ocean breeze at my cottage in Cape Breton.

Where is your happy place in Halifax?

I am a Dartmouthian at heart, and really my favourite place in the HRM right now is my home in Dartmouth with my girlfriend and our cat, tidying, listening to the radio, drinking tea, or gardening. I also love being at my parents’ (also in Dartmouth) leafing through old photo albums. 

Questions by Marilyn Smulders, Author photo by Lindsay Duncan

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