By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—During last week’s Council session, Mayor Ken Hewitt and all six councillors voted unanimously in favour of raising the Pride flag for the first time at a County-owned location, where it will fly for the rest of June in celebration of Pride Month.
“Haldimand County stands in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community and supports diversity, equity, and inclusivity,” said Hewitt.
As part of this step forward, Council directed staff to review its current flag policy, which restricts flags flown at County facilities to the Canadian flag, Provincial flag, and the Haldimand County flag. The goal is to allow for a broader recognition of important events and to acknowledge the contributions of community groups in the future.
“Marginalized people (whether it is due to their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, etc.) need to be supported publicly by elected officials,” said a statement given to The Haldimand Press by Pride Haldimand Norfolk. “This public support sends a message to the wider community that these marginalized folks are equal and should be treated as such. These gestures, while they may seem small, go a long way in helping bring about positive social change.”
While Pride HN has expressed gratitude to the County for raising the flag, they issued a separate public statement earlier this week outlining some of the struggles over recent years that led up to this achievement. It cited comments made on social media by Councillor Bernie Corbett on May 29, 2020 in response to a constituent asking to raise the Pride flag, in which he said, “The County has a Flag Protocol Policy which treats all organizations equally. We are reminded that ‘there is symbolism in both the design and the colours of the national flag of Canada. The maple leaf design represents the cultural heritage of the nation and the natural resources of Canada.’ To me this is inclusive.”
Two years prior, the group sent Haldimand County an email asking to have Pride Day recognized through a proclamation but were denied their request, with the County citing a Council decision from 2001 blocking any proclamation requests received from the public. The group has since made two presentations to Council and one to the Police Services Board after participants in previous Pride Day events were met with protests.
“We believe the mayor and Council were, and are, fully aware of the targeted hate, bullying, and trauma that Two Spirit and LGBTQIA+ peoples, their friends, families, and allies have been subject to here in Haldimand County,” read the Pride HN statement. The County stated that no formal request was made to Council to raise the flag, but Pride HN asserted that the County should have moved to recognize the LGBTQ+ community by raising the flag on their own following “the hate and abuse that was spewed at their constituents at Pride Day 2017, 2018, and 2019.”
The statement to the Press touched on what living with some of that harassment is like: “Almost every gay man in Haldimand County and Norfolk County that I have talked to has been screamed at and called a ‘f****t’ from a passing car when they were walking down the street. Harassment of all Two Spirit and LGBTQIA+ people in the area is very common, especially in the local schools.”
Council’s decision last week followed a CBC article on Haldimand County not flying the Pride flag, which included an interview with Porter, along with a councillor and resident in Norfolk and the St. Catharines mayor. Haldimand CAO Craig Manley responded to the article at that time, asserting that the County has supported the LGBTQ+ community, such as by supporting Pride events and by making Grandview Lodge an LGBTQ+ safe space. He added, “By going to the media and raising it the way it was raised, the issue of the reputation of our organization has been betrayed in a way it didn’t need to be.”
The Pride HN statement, in response to Manley’s claim about their comments to the media, say that the group was approached by the CBC reporter and they spoke to the best of their knowledge on the issue.
In a follow up interview with The Press, Manley offered his thoughts on the situation: “We agree with Pride Haldimand Norfolk that the Pride flag raising is a visible and positive step forward to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in our society.”
He continued, “The County as an organization includes the hundreds of people working for it and its elected leadership. The County organization has supported Pride events on its property and invested significant resources and staff time at the most senior levels to help Pride Haldimand Norfolk hold safe and successful events and the County organization has also undertaken a number of administrative measures to promote diversity and inclusion. Once the flag policy matter was before the whole of the elected Council, it unanimously agreed to change the policy and to direct that the Pride flag be flown.”
Manley mentioned that the previous flag policy was established to maintain a sense of consistency and equality for all groups and events equally.
The flag chosen by the County is the standard Pride flag designed in 1979. Although some in the community hoped the more current version of the flag would be chosen, Pride Haldimand Norfolk was simply happy to see the steps taken: “I am excited that they raised any Pride flag, and I would personally be more than happy to donate a progress Pride flag to the County to fly next year,” their statement to the Press read. “I’d like to see them update it next year. I think they made such a quick decision to change their policy, they didn’t have time to seek out any guidance from the community, otherwise they may have.”
The local Pride community is also evolving to be more supportive itself: “I find that Pride is a lot more inclusive this year, especially to bisexual, transgender and non-binary folks. There has been a lot of talk online about being valid and not having to explain why you are the way you are, you are enough, and your gender identity and sexuality is valid.”
Pride HN is currently selling progress Pride flag yard signs, available for a minimum donation of $10. Those interested in supporting the Pride community throughout Pride Month can visit them on the Facebook page, where they can find events, contests, and educational opportunities all month long.