This conversation between Ben Peterson and Mariah Darling took place in August leading up to THIRD SHIFT: PERIPHERIES!
BP: Before we get started let me introduce myself: I’m Ben—I know we’ve definitely met before, maybe we went to High School together? Right now I’m the Secretary of the Board at Third Space. My background is in architectural theory and art history. I left Saint John for a little while and I came back about three years ago. I love Saint John, it’s a great place to live!
MD: I’m Mariah—I’m the Education Coordinator for Chroma. My background is in medical research; I spent a few years doing research in orthopaedic and neurosurgery before I started with Chroma. I’m also a board member at Saint John Pride and I’m really excited about positions like these in the community. It’s really cool to get a chance to give back as someone in their mid-to-late twenties. The community is just so open, they make it easy to volunteer your time.
BP: I agree—one of the things that drew me back to Saint John was how excited everyone is about what younger people have to offer.
Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me a little bit about Chroma. What are you all about and how does Chroma choose to engage with the community?
MD: We’re a non-profit organization that provides support to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in the Greater Saint John Area. Our commitments are advocating and collaborating with the LGBTQ+ community as well as providing education to everyone. Day-to-day, that looks like hosting events for the community, hosting educational workshops, and meeting with stakeholders on different issues pertaining to our community.
BP: That’s fantastic! Chroma has a very large mandate, but it’s work that is so needed. The educational programming; is that your particular focus with the organization?
MD: Yeah! My role is called Education Coordinator. I offer workshops when people reach out about pronouns or other topics relevant to the community. My most popular program is a two-hour allyship and inclusivity workshop which covers a lot of definitions, pronouns, and starts a lot of important conversations. I’ve been lucky to work with some excellent organizations since I started—like the Y and Saint John Energy—which is so, so needed in Saint John.
BP: I agree, to hear about so much interest from workplaces is really encouraging. Are these types of groups the majority of who you provide educational programs for?
MD: I would say about half. Recently, I’ve done workshops for the folks at ONE Change and several for the Y’s Newcomer groups, which have been really cool experiences.
BP: That’s excellent. We’re really excited to have Chroma as a community partner for THIRD SHIFT 2022. What common ground do you think our organizations share?
MD: I think one of the cool things I’ve noticed between our organizations is that we both aim to lift up people and groups who maybe wouldn’t otherwise be seen in Saint John. It’s so needed and so cool to see. Seeing your organization meet your own goals is so heartwarming and to be a part of that is amazing because we recognize the connection to our mandate. Specifically, in your PERIPHERIES theme, we work with a lot of members of the community living on the periphery or treated as such—having to deal with systems that weren’t built with them in mind. I think our connection with this year’s THIRD SHIFT could lead to some really meaningful conversations in the community, which is awesome.
BP: I think there’s a really cool synergy between the kinds of workshop programming we both offer, too. We both talk about expression and provide knowledge to help people navigate their own identities and to express themselves. To see people succeed in these settings— and to enjoy it, too—is really fantastic.
Chroma provides excellent events for people in and adjacent to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. How important do you think this programming is in the Greater Saint John Area?
MD: Especially the events are about providing space for community members to be themselves. My first introduction to Chroma was through their Creative Nights program. I think it’s really important for young kids—queer kids—who are different in some way to have a space where they can feel comfortable trying new things. It’s not only about making connections with the community in this case but also about making connections with yourself.
BP: I absolutely agree. It’s really encouraging to see people succeed and have fun trying new things. In this same vein, talking about how seriously needed this programming is—where does visibility come into play? What does visibility for the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community mean in Saint John?
MD: I think visibility is especially important in Saint John. Even when I was growing up, it didn’t feel like there was an open and visible queer community—which made this place intimidating for young queer people like you and me trying to stay in the city. Through groups like Chroma and the events and advocacy that we do, at the end of the day, we’re showcasing the bright and thriving queer community we have in Saint John. The community has been here a long time and we need everyone to see that.
BP: Lifting up a community that has been here for a long, long time and forging those inter-generation linkages must make really exciting work. I think it must start to break down some pretty harmful narratives. The urge to leave, in some respects, is really foundational to growing up in Saint John and not seeing your identity reflected in the community makes it really difficult to come back. Visibility is the key to breaking up these urges and encouraging people to stay and thrive.
MD: It’s more than that—it’s showing people that they can stay. We’re here!
BP: It sounds so simple, but as a queer person it’s something you ruminate over every day. It’s so foundational to who you are as a person, it’s a really big deal.
What’s next for Chroma? Where do you see things heading in the next year?
MD: A big focus for us is a new program we’re launching in the fall: we’re working on programming for children and parents to enjoy together. It’s really special, we think, and it’s nearly ready.
We’re also working on programming to help people navigate gender-affirming processes like name changes, gender marker changes, and healthcare access. We’re also waiting on a delivery we need to start our chest binder library. We’ll be able to offer these to the community and it’s hugely needed since the nearest place to access chest binders in this way is in Halifax.
We’re also committed to continuing to offer our social and creative programming for the community at large to have a space that’s open, safe, and inclusive.
BP: How can members of the community find and support the great work that you do?
MD: We’re on every social media network! Our website is www.chromanb.ca and there you can find detailed information about our workshops and events, as well as a link to donate and support the work that we do since we are a non-profit organization.
BP: Thank you so, so much for your time. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for Chroma! Thank you for being an excellent community partner.
MD: Thank you for the chance to speak!