Pride deferred by Emo council

Megan Walchuk

A resolution to support a proclamation from Borderland Pride was defeated 3-2 in last night’s Emo town council meeting.

The resolution would have adopted a pre-worded resolution, provided by Borderland Pride, which would have proclaimed June “Pride Month” and called for a rainbow flag to be displayed for a week of the Township’s choosing.

A motion was made by councillor Lincoln Dunn to accept the proclamation as written, seconded by Lori-Ann Shortreed. It was rejected by Warren Toles, and Harrold Boven, with Mayor Harold McQuaker breaking the tie on the nay side.

The vote was preceeded by a speech from Dunn, which pointed out council’s responsibility to embrace Pride.

“As leaders in our community, we have a responsibility to show by example that Emo is a community where all are welcome in this place. When we affirm the need for the equality and visibility of the LGBTQ2 members of our community, we are offering that support to our friends, our neighbours, our family, and our taxpayers,” he said.

“As I have made my fellow council members aware of in the past, it is also important to note that, in 1996, Parliament added sexual orientation to the Canadian Human Rights Act, making it the eleventh ground of discrimination that is not allowed in Canada. Not only is support for LGBTQ2 members of our community the right thing to do – it’s also the law.

“We all were elected to political office in order to represent all of the residents of Emo, but this is not a political decision. Pride is about celebrating the diversity and equality of all who live in our community, no matter their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

“I ask my fellow members of Council for the Township of Emo to join me in voting to support this resolution, proclaiming June of this year to be Pride month, and to proudly show our support for Borderland Pride.”

Boven was hesitant to adopt the motion as written, and felt he needed more time to review Dunn’s opening remarks and consider the issue. He also felt it infringed on a previously tabled discussion regarding the treatment of flags and proclamations by the Township, and felt it more appropriate to revisit the Pride proclamation at the next council meeting.

“There’s something in my head, at this point in time, that it’s unwise to proceed. We need further discussion somehow,” said Boven.

Dunn and Shortreed both voiced that the vote before them had no bearing on the previous discussion, especially since the township does not have a municipal flagpole.

Regarding the legality of supporting Pride week, and the community it represents, “I brought up all the same points last year. You’ve had a year to review this,” said Dunn.

McQuaker agreed with delaying the proclamation, in light of the unfinished flag debate, adding that a flagpole exists in the town’s park.

“I see no flag flying for the other side of the coin,” said McQuaker. When asked to clarify his comment, McQuaker noted that, “There’s no flag being flown for straight people.”

The comment raised a strong reaction from the crowd gathered in the Zoom meeting chatroom.
“Doesn’t the straight flag fly every day?” asked JoAnne Formanek Gustafson. “Straight people have never had the struggle to be accepted in society, to be accepted, supported and even celebrated. Emo Township, shame on you.”

Toles later revisited the issue by suggesting they pass a resolution similar to last year. In 2019, they accepted the proclamation, but stripped it of its supporting language. Dunn and Shortreed announced they would not be supportive of that motion.

“We’re treating everyone with equality. That’s what we do in the Township of Emo. Nobody is excluded,” said Toles in defence of the modified motion, noting that Dunn had supported it the previous year.

“That was a compromise I was willing to make last year. This year, I am not willing to accept that compromise,” said Dunn. “I believe we didn’t go far enough.”

Shortreed echoed that sentiment.

“We need to do a bit more thinking on it and that’s why I’m asking for it to be pushed to the next meeting,” said Boven.

“It’s a toughy, no matter now you look at it,” added McQuaker.

This was the third year that Emo has faced a proclamation from Borderland Pride to support Pride month. In 2018, Emo was the first council in the district to adopt the resolution, as written. Last year, council faced criticism for adopting the modified version. Pride asked for its community to show solidarity by attending last night’s Zoom meeting, with several supporters logging in. The defeat was a blow for Pride organizers.

“We are extremely disappointed that this council failed to show leadership on diversity and inclusion,” stated Douglas Judson, co-chair of Borderland Pride. “It is 2020. The equality of LGBTQ2 people is the law of the land and the human rights obligations of public officeholders and municipalities are well-established.”

“The defeat of this resolution is particularly distressing because of the world we find ourselves living in right now. We face a global pandemic, where so many of our most vulnerable citizens, including LGBTQ2 young people, are isolated in unsupportive environments away from their friends or sources of support that they typically have access to.

“Signalling our sense of acceptance, support, and inclusion as community leaders takes on renewed importance right now, especially in small communities. This is the wrong message for community leaders to send to their young people.”

Judson has found Emo’s reaction to the resolution “jarring,” considering its earlier acceptance. The proclamation is routinely accepted in Morley, Rainy River and Fort Frances. Chapple has never allowed it before council, but Judson is watching their agendas. LaVallee has a policy against supporting proclamations due to staffing constraints, noted Judson, who grew up in Emo, and faced harassment throughout his childhood and adolescence.

“I’m past all that now, but it infuriates me that in 2020, there still has to be young people whose community leaders believe they are unworthy of basic dignity and protection,” he said. “It’s a complete abdication of responsibility.”