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Before the Parade: A History of Halifax’s Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Communities 1972–1984

by Rebecca Rose

Book cover for Before the Parade by Rebecca Rose“Though we never met, in many ways Anne Fulton is the reason I am writing this book.” That is the opening of the preface for this thorough and intimate history of the first 12 years of public lesbian and gay organizing in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In a line, author Rebecca Rose both honours an important historical figure – one of the founders of the Gay Alliance for Equality (GAE) and the founder of the Atlantic Provinces Political Lesbians for Equality (APPLE), who died in 2015 – and squarely positions herself in the lineage her book traces.

Rose, whose name is now synonymous with queer organizing in the Maritime capital, leans into these personal stakes throughout the first full book dedicated to the city’s queer past. Her candid, first-person narration becomes a soft through-line connecting a slew of dates, names, and acronyms like GAE and APPLE. (We queers are nothing if not an acronymous bunch.) The reader follows Rose, who rigorously uncovers paths leading from the era of private parties and public play right up to the blossoming factions that were, in an instant, upended and suspended by AIDS.

It is a lot, and Rose admits that not everything is included – she omits, for instance, the ubiquitous “T” that today rounds off the term LGB, a nod to historical terminology; she also laments the poor documentation of Mi’kmaw community members, though their impact is certainly apparent. Before the Parade is a charming primer in which one might find a description of an elderly feminist’s modern-day home decor on a spread across from listings of cruising locales circa 1978.

With a stated aim of “bringing together community members from various generations,” this type of chronological collapse is no accident. However, not all of gay liberation’s strains square with young people now. If the goal is to reach stronger intergenerational bonds, some help in bringing together sometimes contradictory politics will go a long way. But it also troubles a text tasked with accommodating many narratives at once. Rose’s enthusiastic writing can be disjointed, an unevenness that at times hampers the richness of the information. Not quite inside baseball, it is still easy for a non-Haligonian queer to become lost in the candour. However ameliorated by a front-of-book cast list, Before the Parade ultimately wants for a dash more critical synthesis, if only to complement Rose’s personal and procedural openness. The quickly shifting topics and timelines merit more space, if not grace. But they are rich nonetheless, and I am all the wiser to have given them time.