Southwestern Ontario township votes against flying Pride flags on municipal property

By Jessica Smith

A township in southwestern Ontario has voted to prohibit Pride flags on municipal property, prompting expressions of dismay from some residents. 

In a Tuesday evening meeting, the council for the Township of Norwich passed a motion to fly only the flags of the federal, provincial and municipal governments on its property. 

The motion, which passed 3-2, specified that Pride flags would be among those that would be banned. Only banners for decoration or those that promote downtown businesses can be flown on municipal street light poles, it said. 

Coun. Jim Scholten, who introduced the motion, said he wanted to change the township’s flag policy to “maintain the unity” of the community.

“By flying these flags alone on township property, we can coexist in peace and harmony no matter who we are or what we believe,” he said.

Having a broader flag policy would lead to endless requests for various flags to be flown, he said. 

“Each one would be subject to judgment or scrutiny based on its merits,” he said. “This in turn would inevitably lead to more disunity and alienation of people.”

Resident Cody Neville, who is gay, said he feels the motion that was passed sends the message that members of the LGBTQ community don’t matter. 

“It feels like we went back several decades,” he said. “To say that I’m heartbroken and devastated is an understatement for the queer community, and the queer youth specifically.”

The council also voted against a motion that would proclaim June as a Pride month in the municipality beginning this summer.

The township saw several cases of vandalism last year involving Pride flags and banners in support of the LGBTQ community.

“I’m just so sad for the youth that have to witness that in today’s day and age,” Neville said of those cases, calling the township a “divided” community. 

“I’m proud to be from Norwich but it’s getting harder and harder to say that and tell people where I’m from, because they see the news and they hear what goes on and they just can’t fathom how I could be happy to be from a place that wants to repress who I am.”

Tara King, who also lives in Norwich, said she was “embarrassed” by the outcome of the vote on flags.

“I was disappointed to be part of this community,” she said. “This is not representative of me.” 

The high school teacher said she worries for the well-being of her two children, who attend school in the area, as well as for the students she teaches. 

“I wonder about the emotional impact that this is going to have on our community,” she said. “It’s certainly not going to unify our community. It’s going to further divide our community”