The Apple Blossom Festival is a long, proud tradition in our Valley community. For 82 years, we have held this festival that celebrates the agricultural lifeblood of our area. And for 82 years, we have crowned a Queen Annapolisa.
Now called “leadership candidates” on the festival website, despite the title of princess of the community they represent, the issue was raised at Kings County council last week that the system may be discriminatory.
During a discussion about a $12,000 funding request for the festival, Coun. Emma Van Rooyen stated that she couldn’t vote in favour of the funding because of the leadership competition.
Her objections are simple: the competition, designed to provide opportunities for networking and career building to those who enter, is limited solely to young women – and only the right young women.
VanRooyen said the specific rules surrounding the leadership competition she finds troubling include the requirement of a high school level of education or equivalent certification; women may not participate if they have children and they can’t be pregnant; women can’t be married; and the competition is open to females only and requires a birth certificate to be submitted in order to compete. VanRooyen said this rule precludes anyone who was not born female from participating.
Her concern is not restricted to the fact that young men can’t take part, but that any young person who is transgendered or any other gender identity can’t participate.
Further, even more potential candidates may be excluded due to the financial costs of participating. The uniform of white dresses and gloves is very specific and isn’t something that can be picked up at a low cost.
Apple Blossom Festival president Gary Long says that while the rules surrounding the leadership competition might be written on paper, they’re not etched in stone. Long says that the organizing committee is open to suggestions and doesn’t consider the rules surrounding the leadership competition to be a matter of discrimination. They’ve simply never had a community representative suggest putting forward a male or a female that doesn’t meet the current rules.
Leadership competition chairwoman Angela Pelton adds that it’s simply a matter of tradition, and for a community festival to last for 82 years, they must be doing something right.
She points out that the leadership competition began in a time when young women weren’t readily accepted into several facets of society.
The competition has evolved over the years – at one point, the candidate was required to be the child of a married couple and a rule that they cannot cohabitate has been abandoned – but is it enough?
While our forefathers might have believed these rules were suitable 82 years ago, in a changing world, we must question whether this is still the case. Is it fair to preclude a young mother from networking opportunities? What about a transgendered person? Or a young man?
Today’s Apple Blossom princesses are smart, savvy young women. They have qualities that should be admired by all and it’s clear to see they will go far in their future, with or without the benefits the leadership competition brings them in building confidence, poise and public speaking abilities. It is bothersome, however, that a large group of the population is precluded from this competition, who may never consider it an option available to them because of current rules.