Community Board

TO PRIDE FLAG OR NOT TO PRIDE FLAG?

Martin Rooney, Large Pride Flag Holland Park

CREDIBILTY? HOMOPHOBIA? DISCRIMINATION? OR ALL THREE?

Guest Post Op/Ed by Martin Rooney

Epic fail to deliver by Surrey First Mayoral Candidate Linda Hepner. First it was Mayor Dianne Watts who had ownership of the issue and refused to fly the Pride Flag on city Flag Poles (in support of the GLBT Athletes competing in the Sochi Winter Games), claiming there had been “no formal request made”. Madam Mayor, it is 2014 and I for one ensured that you and all members of the council received an email that included a very specific request – to join the other cities across Canada in supporting the GLBT Athletes in Sochi, following Putin’s installation of the some of the world’s recent most aggressive anti GLBT laws.

From there an Alliance of GLBT leaders and community groups was formed to address this going forward. A formal “official” delegation was organized and we asked to speak before council…..we did that June 9th. In that meeting we were instantly granted one of our requests – an Exhibit of GLBT History of Surrey that includes a Pride Flag in the atrium of the new city hall. At the same meeting councillor Rasode asked that the clerk come back with a report explaining how local municipalities were in fact flying the flag. This gave us hope that Surrey City Council would in fact research and come back with a positive report June 23rd…. the agenda was released for the meeting and we discover that the flag policy would be under the Corporate Report – a report that does not allow for any public discussion.

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Also the corporate report gave the impression that a brand new (they warbled about the fact that there ever was official flag policy) flag policy was proposed and adopted that would only allow the Federal, Provincial and Municipal Flags to fly on ALL municipal flag poles. (in 2010 the Olympic Flag flew under the municipal flag – so a no cost solution????). There was no report provided in response to Councillor Rasode’s request. Rather a “new” flag protocol pushed through council. There apparently will be no further discussion on that issue until perhaps we have a new Mayor and Council elected in November 2014. (the relevant video clips of the delegation and response are on Encourage Surrey BC City Hall to fly the Pride Flag – a Facebook Page).

The issue of credibility lies in the explanation that Ms Hepner delivered. Mayor Watts (acting like the lame duck Mayor she is) excused herself from both council meetings that engaged in this dialogue. It was how Ms Hepner related the decision of the council and then the proposal to allow effectively any size banner or flag, “that could be as high as the birds flying from the ceiling of the Atrium” that is called into question. After the exhibit was built, and the Pride Flag standing on the flag pole at its side, Surrey Pride representatives arrived with a 20′ x 40′ Rainbow Flag to the consternation of staff at city hall. Ms Hepner was unavailable to assist staff and confirm or deny she had given the direction that this was all ok. The staff, one of whom was at the (council) meeting, refused to listen to, and watch the video clip. If the offer was not a bona fide offer, then fine, but to be unable for comment on a Thursday afternoon to take responsibility for one’s words and promises. At the time of writing this there has been no written response from Ms. Hepner, her staff or city hall as to the legitimate reason that the 20′ x 40′ piece of coloured fabric cannot be hung inside the atrium.

Mayor Watts, remember who is a lame duck Mayor, took to the airways promoting a community flag pole…..awesome. At a cost of $200,000…..Expensive for a flag pole? Why not have been proactive and install the 4th flagpole while building the new city hall? This was not the first time that the Pride flag had been a discussion with Dianne Watts…..The kicker – the community has to raise the $200,000. (The next question is – what policy determines who gets to use that pole and what causes or celebrations will be endorsed usages of the pole?).

So Pride happens and we have a successful event. The exhibit was well attended during the week and the story continued even after the festival was over – The following statement comes from the keynote speech delivered by Mr Gay Canada 2014 Christepher Wee (made while all attending members of council were on the stage along with members of the Imperial Court of Surrey whose Monarchs were in drag and wearing crowns) – with the 20′ x 40′ flag on display meters away –

“For me, the significance of our Rainbow Flag has evolved beyond the reflection of our struggles, remembrance of our sacrifices and loses, celebration of our victories, education and enlightenment of the causes we still strive to see realized. Our Rainbow Flag has evolved to encompass what it means to be one community, one people, one voice regardless of where we fit into the LGBTQA+ spectrum of our diverse rainbow family of human beings.

Regrettably, in spite of celebrating 15 years of Pride here in Surrey, the City’s unwillingness to raise our Rainbow Flag shows that even in our own home, where our pioneers have done so much to secure our rights, we still have a long way to go.
Our complacency and our silence condone the lack of local social and civil progress. Complacency and silence condone inequality. And complacency and silence condone the lack of political leadership. Even Thompson, Manitoba, which celebrated its first Pride last week, had our Rainbow Flag raised! Our own provincial capital, Victoria, also raised our Rainbow Flag during this week’s Victoria Pride.

I feel that it is unacceptable as a City which prides itself on its GSAs, its support of Protect Surrey Schools Together, and its 15-year history of Pride celebrations, that raising our Rainbow Flag is met with political rhetoric and resistance.

What kind of example are we setting for our youth and for other communities such as Thompson, Manitoba, when civic leaders do not lead by example and do not possess the vision of a tomorrow that embraces, acknowledges, and celebrates our diversity as one community?

We all need to “Rise Up!”, the theme of this year’s WorldPride, to proactively advocate for our rights and to question the contradictions and hypocrisy that still exist in our communities today.”

So the scrambled response to the media (Global TV) was that “by next year there would be a 4th flag pole and the Pride flag would fly at city hall”

The taxpayers of this city have paid more than their fair share. The diversity that this administration has espoused throughout this term needs to be defined…. Perhaps the discussion needs to be the definition of diversity and how the 2nd largest city in the Province can have an open and honest dialogue on all the issues affecting this great city. Perhaps it is time for the community associations to embrace this dialogue and perhaps embracing the community Hub idea of Councillor Rasode and making it a reality in all the town centres of our city to hear what the people have to say.

Martin Rooney
Community Advocate
Surrey (Whalley) BC Canada

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