Kings County Coun. Emma Van Rooyen. File
A Kings County councillor says while the Apple Blossom Festival leadership competition provides meaningful experiences to participants, she would like to see it become more welcoming to all young people.
Coun. Emma Van Rooyen voiced her concerns during a discussion on Municipal Economic Development Fund grants at the May 20 committee of the whole session, where council was asked for $12,000 in funding for the Apple Blossom Festival. Councillors voted to recommend approval of the funding request, but it wasn’t unanimous, with Van Rooyen and Coun. Patricia Bishop voting against it.
“The competition is designed to provide opportunities for networking and career building to those who enter,” Van Rooyen said following the meeting. “I think that it is discriminatory to deny these opportunities to the many people disqualified from entering based on the limiting criteria they must meet to be eligible to enter.”
Van Rooyen said the specific rules surrounding the leadership competition that she finds troubling include the requirement of a high school level of education or the equivalent certification; women may not participate if they have children and they can’t be pregnant at the time of the competition; women can’t currently be or ever have been married; and the competition is open to females only and requires a birth certificate to be submitted in order to compete.
Van Rooyen 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 transgender or any other gender identity can’t participate.
“I respect how important the traditions of the competition are to some residents; however, I think it is time to meld those existing traditions with new ones that celebrate all of our young leaders inclusively,” Van Rooyen said.
During the council discussion, Warden Diana Brothers said the county’s Race Relations and Anti-Discrimination Committee has not discussed this matter and that Van Rooyen’s comments are coming from an individual councillor.
Apple Blossom Festival committee reacts
The president of the Annapolis Valley Apple Blossom Festival says rules surrounding the leadership competition might be written on paper, but they’re not etched in stone.
Gary Long said there are currently only females in the competition. However, he said the organizing committee is always open to suggestions and discussion, adding the festival board doesn’t consider it a case of discrimination.
Long said the leadership competition is community-driven. If a community representative wanted to put a male candidate forward, the festival committee would address it, but they have not yet encounter such a situation.
“We’ve never had any males express an interest in taking part in the program,” he said.
Long said there were a couple of county councillors who expressed concern over the leadership competition during last year’s budget presentation. He said he has since told councillors that if this were an issue for community members, the board would certainly look at it.
“Currently, to the best of my knowledge, this is not an area of concern of the majority of people who wish to participate in the Valley,” Long said.
Practically, however, Long said there would be financial and logistical considerations if the competition were opened to males. While a number of young women could stay in the same hotel room, a mix of young men and women wouldn’t be possible.
Some of the rules have evolved over the years, he said, pointing to a rule of candidates not being allowed to cohabitate that has been abandoned. The rule requiring a high school education was put in place because, up to this year, a scholarship was awarded to Queen Annapolisa. Because of financial constraints, a scholarship is no longer offered.
Leadership competition chairwoman Angela Pelton said she believes the key word is "tradition."
“We must be doing something right,” she says, with the festival and the leadership competition now in its 82nd year.
“You have to teach that it’s good to get ahead in the world and prove yourself as a young woman.”
The competition began in a time when young women weren’t readily accepted into several facets of society. Pelton believes it helps young women gain confidence, adding, young women are “really struggling to find themselves.”
“It’s really surprising how much they gain in a short amount of time,” Pelton said.
She said the competition has come a long way over the years. There was a time when candidates had to be the daughter of a married couple, for example.
Pelton said any group of concerned citizens are free to present other options or another concept to the Apple Blossom Festival committee. Any group could come up with their own festival or competition if they disagree that strongly with what the Apple Blossom leadership competition represents, she added.