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"Ever wonder if City Council is as contentious and chaotic as it is sometimes portrayed? Here you can get a progressive perspective on some of the issues from someone who spent four years in the trenches. Totally unbiased, though! Feel free to comment but keep it respectful, just like they do at council."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Happy Pride!

Congratulations! to all of you for having the courage and clarity in being able to recognize a notable part of your community.  Your decision to raise the Pride flag this year is landmark indeed.  LGBT reaches far and wide.  It threads it's way through all segments of the population, and needs to be identified to those who are aware and, espescially to those who are unaware.  The flag-raising on Friday will show that London's city leaders are strong and open-minded.
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.

Happy Pride!


Anonymous said...

I have a story to tell you...I was born in the '50's and raised in London. In my early 20's I was quite anxious and depressed and joined a day program at W.O.T.C.H. We had talk groups lead by facilitators and we'd brainstorm a variety of issues that were causing stress in our lives, searching for solutions and methods of coping. One day a facilitor of one of the groups I'd chosen to be a member of came and asked me if I'd be willing to change groups, as she had a conflict of interest, and since that particular group was a job assignment she didn't have a choice, if I didn't switch, she'd have to quit or be fired. What was this conflict of interest I queried. She said she was in love with me. But isn't that the whole point of the group, that we learned how to love eachother despite our differences I asked. She pressed on, explaining that she didn't mean she loved me, in the Christian sence of the word,but that she was in love with me, romantically, that she was sexually attracted to me. I was flabbergasted. But how can that be, I asked her, we're both women! I had never, in my entire life, even heard of homosexuality, despite the fact that I had near perfect attendance at school, our family had received the free press every morning, watched the news on t.v. every night, and I had my very own transistor radio. I still don't understand why or how it is that some people are sexually attracted to their own gender, but thanks to the couragious efforts of HALO and pride, I don't need to understand, I can accept the differences without fear...keep up the good work and have a happy festival.

Vicki Van Linden said...

Happy Pride Day ! It is so encouraging to see the progress that has been made on this important human right - the right to love the person of your preference, no matter who that person may be.

When life seems a bit discouraging and social progress seems to be grinding to a halt, it is helpful to think about how far Canada has come in being more inclusive to the LGBT community.

All Canadians have the right to marry a same-sex partner, and the sky did not fall as some predicted. All that happened is that many people were able to get on with their lives in the way that is meaninful to them.

This is one of the things that makes be proud to be Canadian, and I thank you as well, Gina, for your efforts to move this forward.