P.E.I. gay tourism campaign spurs debate in Island LGBT community

A new series of videos promoting P.E.I. as a safe and welcoming place for LGBT travelers "missed the mark," some advocates say.

The P.E.I. Gay Tourism Association recently released a series of six videos aimed at attracting more LGBT tourists — the videos feature gay P.E.I. residents enjoying Island food, beaches, a same-sex wedding, and more.

"I think it's really amazing that they're including queer couples, I think that that's really positive, and P.E.I. couples, I think that's even better — I just think that they missed the mark," said Russell Louder, 21, a musician and performance artist from Charlottetown. 

"I think the intentions were good," Louder said. "But I think the ad campaign was just a misrepresentation."

Louder is gender non-binary — a person who identifies as neither male nor female. Louder's comments on social media sparked a conversation among some in the LGBT community. 

"I think that if potential queer tourists saw the ad campaign and saw that it was directed toward queer tourists and they came to P.E.I., I think they would be kind of shocked." Louder uses the term queer to encompass the entire LGBT community.

The PEI Gay Tourism Association's Bill Kendrick responded that he is glad to see the initiative has generated discussion, but is "not interested in engaging in the conversation initiated by Russell Louder."

'Almost impossible to capture'

"When P.E.I. has a booming and flourishing LGBTQ scene, and there are activities to do — I'm not discrediting the work of Pride PEI or AIDS PEI or any organization that is working to make this a reality eventually — but when P.E.I. is a wonderful place for queers to live, I would be so happy to see an ad campaign directed by queer people for queer people," Louder said.

Pride PEI chair Alex Beattie believes that P.E.I.'s reputation as a safe place is warranted, pointing to statistics that show violent crime on P.E.I. has been trending downward.  

"The LGBTQ+ community is extremely broad and diverse and it would be almost impossible to capture our community as a whole in a few short videos," Beattie said.

"I do believe that the PEI Gay Tourism Association has done a great job in portraying P.E.I. as a safe and enjoyable travel destination for the LGBTQ+ community."

'A few more steps forward'

The Island's inclusiveness has come a long way in the last few years, said Tyler Murnaghan, former chair of Pride PEI, and believes P.E.I. is a safe and increasingly welcome place for LGBT travelers. 

"I actually enjoyed it [the videos] myself. It is something I would have liked to see more of especially during my time with Pride … to bring some better visibility to what's happening on our Island," said Murnaghan. 

But Murnaghan agreed the videos were missing something — for instance, people enjoying LGBT culture like P.E.I.'s Pride parade or dances.

"I'd like to see them be a little bit more realistic, to see them kind of show there is an LGBT community and culture on P.E.I. and to highlight that a little bit more, instead of just going with what everyone else is already offering," he said. 

"Gay people are looking for a destination to come to, a place they know they can travel or retire to," said Murnaghan. "If we took a few more steps forward we could definitely be that place." 

The videos in the campaign feature local gay couples and families, not actors.

'There aren't really safe spaces'

Louder also thought it was a mistake to show only same-sex couples in the videos, not transgender people. 

"I think that representation is a really important step towards making queer people feel safe on P.E.I.," Louder said. "But people need to be walking the walk and taking the actual steps to make P.E.I. a safe place."

P.E.I. isn't always welcoming to LGBT people, Louder said — pointing to a lack of LGBT nightlife and lack of transgender-accessible bathroom facilities.

"There aren't really safe spaces per se, like LGBTQ centres or places where queer people really feel they can meet up that are out in the open," they noted.

'Of course I want queer people to come here'

Louder has been harassed in P.E.I. bars and disrespected in professional settings, they shared, adding some of their queer friends don't go out to clubs because the harassment is "exhausting." 

"If we want to bring queer people here we have to make it a welcoming space for them first — and that involves making it a safe space for the queer people that already live here," said Louder. 

"Of course I want queer people to come here, I'm a queer, I'm thirsty for this community on P.E.I.! But let's just make it a safer space first," Louder said. 

Louder plans to continue advocating for the Island's LGBT community, and has given talks on non-binary identity. Louder visits schools, and often talks with families of young Islanders coming out as transgender.

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