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District of Hope council votes against raising the Pride flag for June

Hope Pride Committee says they are disappointed and saddened by council’s decision

The Hope Pride Committee (HPC) stated they are disappointed and sad after Hope council voted not to raise a flag flying Pride colours during the official Pride month in June.

Last Monday’s (March 27) council meeting saw councillors Zachary Wells, Angela Skoglund, and Pauline Newbigging cite neutrality and “being fair to all groups of Hope” as reasons against raising the flag. Councillors Crystal Sedore and Heather Stewin voted in favour of raising the flag. Coun. Scott Medlock was not in attendance during the meeting.

The 3-2 vote is considered a setback for local Pride organizers.

“We haven’t given up hope yet,” said HPC founding member Megan te Boekhorst. “We are saddened by council’s decision. It’s just a shame that the district doesn’t want to be involved in a way that has significant importance and value and history to the LGBTQIA2S+ community.”

Council first heard the HPC’s request during the March 13 council meeting when te Boekhorst gave a presentation explaining their plans for Hope’s first Pride month, and the importance of the Pride flag for Hope’s large LGBTQIA2S+ community.

“Raising a flag is such a small act in the bigger picture. But it’s such a meaningful act to the queer community, especially to those who have experienced the oppression, it has so much importance to us,” te Boekhorst said.

READ MORE: Hope’s first Pride month, cannabis store, and Alexandra Bridge on council agenda

During the March 27 meeting, Wells expressed concerns that raising the flag would ostracize other groups in the community.

“We did for sure, say, in the idea of keeping our town inclusive, it’s best if our government — our local body — stays neutral,” Wells said. “We have religious groups that do not agree with the LGBTQ. So, what are we saying to them [religious groups] if we decide to fly their [LGBTQIA2S+ community] flag? We’re now ostracizing our own community — members that live in our community.”

Mayor Victor Smith, Skoglund and Newbigging also had concerns that it could open up the door to other groups of Hope wanting to raise their flags, as well as legality issues for the district.

“I’ve talked to other communities and what they’ve done is, they’ve stayed neutral because of concerns about issues from all the other [groups] that have come forward to them. And they’re scared about the legalities of turning one down and promoting another one,” Smith said. “It’s not a good thing. It’s unfortunate. But not everybody plays nicely in the sandbox.”

Te Boekhorst, who is also a board member of the Chilliwack Pride Committee, said that both the councillors, and mayor’s, concern of “opening the door to other groups’ flags” hasn’t been an issue for many other B.C. municipalities who’ve raised the flag.

She also said she would like to know which communities Smith talked to.

“Hope has never received a request to raise any other flag,” she said. “And I have yet to hear any stories, out of the communities I listed, who have challenges in having overwhelming amounts of flag raising requests [from other groups].

“With the queer community there is history with the flag. There is symbolism with the flag that is unique to the queer community. And if other marginalized communities want their flags raised, what’s the harm?”

Te Boekhorst also said that the council choosing to remain neutral does nothing to support marginalized groups.

“When it comes to oppression, there is no such thing as neutrality. When it comes to hate, there is no such thing as neutrality. You either support the oppressed or you’re standing with the oppressor in your silence.”

This sentiment was shared and expressed by Stewin and Sedore during the meeting.

“I want Hope to be an inclusive community. And remaining neutral, I’m sorry, that statement says I don’t want to make the decision,” Stewin said. “As a person who is often excluded because of a disability, inclusion seems to only matter to people who are being excluded. It shouldn’t be that way. Inclusion should be important to every single person in this community.”

Te Boekhorst said she’s received comments, after council made their decision, by members — including those not publicly out — expressing great sadness and fear about living in Hope.

“I don’t know the councillors very well, and [their decision] isn’t necessarily a homophobic act. But, I think for a lot of them, their decision comes from a lack of understanding. And a lack of understanding of how actions like this hurt,” she said.

According to te Boekhorst, flying the Pride flag would have demonstrated council’s allyship to the LGBTQIA2S+ community. It would have shown the LGBTQIA2S+ community, in a meaningful manner that required “little effort on council’s part,” that the district does not tolerate hate — emotional, physical, passive, and aggressive — towards the community and that members, especially youth, could feel safe to be themselves in Hope.

She added that it would have shown that council does not place the discomfort, or comfort, of those with privilege over the traumatic history that the LGBTQIA2S+ community has gone through.

“I’ve had a lot of discussions on what makes a safe community. And you know, I was asked, ‘can we consider Hope, a safe community for the LGBTQ community?’ Every town has homophobia, or transphobia. But the question is, will your town have your back or your oppressors back?” te Boekhorst said. “If an instance of hate happens, what will the people in power do? Will they call out against it? Will they say it’s not welcome in this town? Raising the flag would tell the queer community that if something were to happen, the leaders of this community would support us and they would advocate for us.

“We’ve asked for their support in one way and they’ve said no. So, I would love to hear how they would like to support us. And how they would like to show their support and how they would like to demonstrate their inclusion. Because inclusion is more than just saying we’re inclusive. It’s actually being inclusive.”

Despite this setback, te Boekhorst said that, though the district won’t fly the flag at the District hall, a Pride flag will be flown in Hope; after learning about council’s decision, te Boekhorst said she was approached by others in Hope offering to fly the flag at their building. She said she is also incredibly grateful to the allyship that the Hope RCMP has given the LGBTQIA2S+ community, and their support of Hope Pride.

“They’ve been an incredible partner,” te Boekhorst said. “There’s a large amount of support for Hope’s first Pride and for this Pride month from the local queer community and our allies. And businesses are starting to get behind it.”

READ MORE: Hope Pride Committee to host Dorothy’s Cabinet on Feb. 9


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Kemone Moodley

About the Author: Kemone Moodley

I began working with the Hope Standard on August 2022.
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