A rainbow flag, a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride, will fly at North Cowichan’s municipal hall for the first time this spring.
Council voted to have the flag fly on May 17, the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, and for the month of June, which is recognized as Pride month, at its meeting on May 1.
Coun. Rosalie Sawrie made the motion to fly the flag, stating that she decided to bring it to council as part of efforts to make North Cowichan a safe and inclusive community for all its citizens.
She said she was heartened by the people from the Valley who came out to protest against SOGI 123 critic Jenn Smith when he held a meeting in Duncan last week, and by members of the local group Youth Pride which is advocating to hold a Pride Parade in Duncan this spring.
“I think it’s important that the Municipality of North Cowichan show its support for the LGBTQ2S+ community by flying the pride flag each May 17 and each month of June,” Sawrie said.
“I’ve been with my same sex-sex partner for 15 years and there were times when I didn’t feel safe and comfortable. For me, it’s important that we, as leaders, show that we want a safe and inclusive community.”
Coun. Christopher Justice said he strongly supports the motion.
He said symbols, like flags, are important.
“My wife displayed a small rainbow flag in her office and some people who went in the office burst into tears,” Justice said.
“The flag said to them that this is a place that accepts you.”
Coun. Tek Manhas said he has many friends who are members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, including Sawrie, but he wouldn’t support the motion.
“The municipality has a long-standing policy that doesn’t allow proclamations, and if we do it for this group, we’d have to do it for all of them,” he said.
Mayor Al Siebring said he has no problem with flying the rainbow flag, but he also has concerns about allowing one group of citizens to make a proclamation in the municipality.
“If we do it for one, we’ll have to do it for all and that’s the position we’ll put ourselves in if we go down this road,” he said.
“I’m prepared to vote for it for this year, but I have a problem with the way the motion is worded in that it calls for the flag to fly every June and May 17 ‘in perpetuity’. We can’t speak for future councils, so the motion should be revisited every year.”
Justice said he doesn’t believe the rainbow flag represents just a segment of the community.
“The rainbow flag is all inclusive and represents everyone in the community, so I don’t believe the argument that allowing this motion to pass would be a slippery slope for other proclamations,” he said.
Coun. Kate Marsh said she’ll support the motion because, as leaders in the community, if council didn’t vote for it, “it would send a message that we don’t want to send”.
“These are citizens of our community who, like Christians, Sikhs, Baha’is and others around the world, are sometimes persecuted and I think we should make some sort of symbolic act here,” she said.
“We need to say that, not only do we accept you, but we respect you. I fear the rise of hate crimes and rhetoric around the world.”
Coun. Debra Toporowski said she admires the local LGBTQ2S+ community for being “bold and out there”.
“I think we should show support for our community members who are sometimes made to feel that they don’t belong,” she said.
The motion passed, with Manhas opposed.
Staff were also directed by council to prepare a report on establishing a flag policy for the municipality.