MartinWithenshaw – 25th Pride Festival GrandMarshal It’s true, there’s still a lot of work to do when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights. But many barriers have been broken and progress made because of the efforts of people like Martin Withenshaw. Withenshaw has pushed through prejudice for more than four decades, in eras very different from today. His tenacity and leadership led to him being named Grand Marshall of this year’s Pride London Parade held in July. Said Withenshaw of the honour, “I stand tall on the shoulders of the people who came before me and will continue to promote diversity and inclusion for all in the years to come." Withenshaw’s activism was energized in the mid - 1970s. Then-Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau had already declared in 1967 that, “there is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”. Homosexuality had been decriminalized in 1969. However, changing the law didn’t automatically change the attitudes of those with a bias. In fact, it usually works the other way around, as men who were fired and discriminated against for being gay fought back and forced the government to change its laws and definitions, especially with respect to human rights. In the 1980s, as AIDS terrorized the gay community and claimed many lives, Martin Withenshaw was already a member of Canada’s first gay-owned and operated not-for-profit: HALO – Homophile Association of London Ontario. He was active with HALO for many years and chaired the organization’s 20th anniversary celebrations in 1994. Withenshaw was involved with a myriad of groups that worked to gain equality for the LGBT2Q+ community. Improvements came along in baby steps, and giant steps, such as the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2005.
One of the Rainbow Optimist Club’s focuses is supporting rural youth who might not otherwise feel they have a welcoming place to go. A speaker’s series is slated to run as a pilot project with Strathroy Library this fall. The goal of the Rainbow Speakers Panel is to feature adults who the teens can relate to, understand what they are facing and explain how they got through it. It’s another step in his mission to empower and improve the lives of those in the LGBT2Q+ communities.
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In September of 2018, Withenshaw founded the world’s first LGBT2Q+ Optimist club. The Rainbow Optimist Club – Southwestern Ontario is the force behind the popular Drag Queen Storytime in Middlesex, St. Thomas and Elgin libraries. The readings are fun, but the club also has a more serious goal of inclusiveness for teens going to the libraries. Withenshaw wants them to be, “where people can find themselves represented and reflected, and where they understand that all people are treated with respect and dignity."
Watch the Sold signs go up !!
Page 6 Issue 3 • Fall 2019
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