Despite the stupefyingly circuitous route from my then home in western Canada to Austin, Texas, I was thrilled about the flight I took in 2009. For I knew that I’d arrive at the airport terminal that bears the name of the Black politician whose spellbinding speech, during the 1974 Watergate impeachment hearings, effectively forced U.S. president Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon to resign.
The airport also boasts a magnificent, life-sized bronze statue of the figure. I’m talking about the late congresswoman Barbara Charline Jordan.
As it happened, I’d also corresponded with Jordan (who’d retired from politics in 1979) about a book on Black women’s health that I was completing in the 1990s. While she declined my invitation to contribute to the volume, I cherish the letter in which she wished me well with the project. Afflicted with multiple sclerosis, Jordan died, in January 1996, from pneumonia as a complication of leukemia. She was 59.
Like many 2SLGBTQIA+ folk back then, I’d heard rumours about Jordan’s romantic relationship with Nancy Earl, a psychologist she’d reportedly met during a camping trip in the 1960s. Neither woman ever acknowledged the liaison publicly. However, during the eulogy for her colleague and longtime personal friend, former Texas Governor Ann Richards spoke directly to Earl. “Well, Nancy,” Richards said. “The truth is, I’d counted on Barbara preaching my funeral.”
Two months later, Jordan was the subject of a cover story in The Advocate, a prominent 2SLGBTQIA+ magazine. “Lesbianism was a secret the former congresswoman chose to take to her grave,” noted the widely read article.
The appointment of Laphonza Butler — a Black and openly lesbian union organizer — to fill the U.S. senate seat left vacant by the recent death of Dianne Feinstein (Democrat-California) has prompted my reflections on Jordan’s closeted life. By contrast, peep the photo of Butler’s swearing-in ceremony with her beaming wife, Neneki Lee, by her side. To say nothing of Vice President Kamala Harris.
About the landmark event, Butler later said: “I decided … to serve at my greatest potential, to lead and to deliver at my highest impact, to raise my voice to the highest volume on behalf of creating a better more equitable future.”
Butler’s ascent has also reminded me of the energetic 2SLGBTQIA+ adolescents (and their straight allies) that I’ve met as an instructor for Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia sponsored workshops at the MacPhee Centre for Creative Learning in Dartmouth. Mindful of media reports about unmarked graves at former residential school sites, I’d asked participants at last summer’s MacPhee writing camp to draft a letter to an Indigenous child. They were all in.
They’d just put pen to paper (old-school style) when I received word that a visitor would be passing through the room. Much to my surprise, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland walked in. Before heading upstairs, the former journalist offered words of encouragement to the group. While unfamiliar with Freeland or the specifics of her job, a self-described queer youth later told me that she thought the Deputy Prime Minister was “really cool.”
This brings me to Halifax Pride. I understand that the embattled organization held its annual general meeting, last week, via Zoom. I didn’t attend and have no idea what happened. Personally, I’ve released the phantom 2023 march/parade as the fiasco it has been; a major fail at a time when 2SLGBTQIA+ folk (especially trans youth) are under siege.
On the upside, here’s a field note for a (hopefully) rejuvenated Halifax Pride. Why not think big and plan next year’s festivities as a public tribute to a Black, openly lesbian activist/musician with hometown roots? I’m talking about Faith Nolan who spent her early years in Africville and whose debut 1986 album Africville won the 2021 Polaris Heritage Prize.
For it’s not been lost on me that many Halifax Pride events have historically been scheduled at the same time as the annual Africville Reunion (and vice versa). I’ve longed for a collaboration between the groups, ideally at Africville Park, that would bring greater voice and visibility to the issues of equity and inclusion that both espouse.
Indeed, several years ago, I floated the Faith Nolan/Halifax Pride concept to an African Nova Scotian civic leader without whose vigorous support the idea would likely sink in the Bedford Basin. As of this writing, no response.
As much as this Come From Away (and all that the term connotes) would rejoice in a Halifax Pride/Africville Reunion salute to the artistry and activism of Faith Nolan, I’m thinking mainly about the local 2SLGBTQIA+ youth of all ethnicities (and hair colours) who are in increasing need of affirmation. I’m all in for bridging the multiple divides in a city that should strive to reach its highest potential.