Excerpt from an email to London city councillors, July 19, 2007.
Today (Sunday) is the day of the Pride Parade in London.
It starts from the parking lot at the Western Fair Grounds around 12:30 p.m. and from there the march goes to Victoria Park.
That’s a first. Until this year, the festival has been held in various parking lots around the city and on Dundas Street. But this year, the festivities will take place at the park that houses Sunfest and Home County Festival; Gay Pride has arrived!
|Raising the Pride flag at city hall 2007|
There hasn’t been a lot of fanfare around this new location; the transition has occurred gradually and quietly. What a change from the earlier days of request for recognition!
I, along with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other Londoners have joined in the Pride Festival for most of its 30 years in London. Many of those others will remember the rocky road to acceptance.
I was a graduate student at what was then the University of Western Ontario when HALO, the Homophile Association of London Ontario, was formed in London. In fact, I was working on a master’s thesis on the homosexual community at the time and received great cooperation from HALO for my research.
Fast forward to the summer of 2007. It was my first year on council.
I had been copied on an email from Chris D'Aguilar, an organizer of the Pride Parade, requesting the city to fly the Pride Flag at City Hall for the week of the Pride Festival. I didn’t respond since it wasn’t actually addressed to me, and I assumed that the item would be placed on the Board of Control agenda.
But a few days later, I received a phone call from the same organizer. He had received no reply to his request; what was he to do?
I advised him to contact the clerk’s office to have the request would be included on the agenda. I promised that I would ensure that his letter would be circulated at the Board of Control meeting. And that is what I did.
As I was distributing the copies I had made, Controller Gord Hume hissed that I didn’t know what I was doing, that I was “opening up a can of worms.”
It’s true that I hadn’t been there for the earlier kerfuffle on this issue in the mid 1990’s, when the mayor of the day, Diane Haskett, had refused to issue a proclamation for gay pride and, as a result, the city of London had been found to be in violation of the Human Rights Code and fined $10,000. Rather than acknowledging the infraction, Haskett had taken a three week vacation from her re-election campaign, won the 1997 election handily, and modified city policy so that there would be no further proclamations of any kind.
I was surprised that Hume was taking this position. He had headed up the Creative City Taskforce, a major thrust of which was to recognize and celebrate the importance of diversity in a becoming a creative city. And Hume himself had been present at the Pride Parade in previous years, bringing greetings to the participants.
“That was a long time ago; things have changed a lot since then,” I retorted, but Hume was not convinced. When the issue came forward he tried to deflect it by making a motion to provide a donation of $2,500 to the organization.
Much to my surprise, that motion passed. But I was not prepared to drop the issue at that. Realizing that I would not be successful in a motion to actually allow the pride flag to be flown, I suggested that we have staff prepare a report and make recommendations on the current flag policy including the history and the pros and cons of such a policy. Surprisingly, that also passed; it’s hard to say no to a report.
Thus the matter came before council the following week. The organizer who had contacted me was worried. He thought the matter had been unduly complicated with adding the donation which he hadn’t requested, and having a detailed report. But it was too late to make changes. Now it was up to council.
Although Hume was presenting the board report to council, I was asked to present that particular motion since Hume had not supported it. Having been duly warned that this was a divisive issue, I prepared for a rancorous debate.
But it was not meant to be. Once I had moved the two parts of the motion, the money and the report, Nancy Branscombe got up to speak. She didn’t see the point of waiting for another report; why not just get on with it and let the group fly their flag? She added a clause to the motion, seconded by Cheryl Miller, to do just that.
There followed a burst of support, with the final motion to allow the flag to be flown for 2007 supported by everyone present except the mayor (Anne Marie Decicco Best), the deputy mayor (Tom Gosnell), and Councillors VanMeerbergen, Hubert and Usher. Even Hume was comforted by the show of support. Oh, what a difference a decade makes!
The flag was raised a few days later. Despite council fears of a backlash, the response was overwhelmingly positive. We received many letters of thanks and congratulations from the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) community and its friends and family. We were thanked for our courage but, in truth, it didn’t take much courage. The public was ready to be inclusive.