Inclusion seems to be a battled hill to plant a flag on.

The main issue came from a request by Quebec-based Fondation Émergence for Tiny Township to proclaim May 17th as International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia with a further request to raise a flag for that day.

According to the template letter sent to councils across the country, over 280 municipalities in Canada joined the initiative in 2022, and May 17 was chosen for its significance as the World Health Organization in 1990 removed homosexuality from their mental disorder list.

During an April committee of the whole meeting, the majority of council members – minus absent Coun. Steffen Walma – discussed the agenda item and shared their views.

Mayor Dave Evans turned focus away from the cause and felt that Tiny staff should work at a higher county level to coordinate official recognition days rather than creating conflicting days as a lower-tier municipality. Both committee chair Deputy Mayor Sean Miskimins and Coun. Kelly Helowka were in support of the proclamation and flag-raising request.

But Coun. Dave Brunelle took a strong stance against the request, asking first for clarification from the CAO about the annual Fierté Simcoe Pride event for the 2SLGBTQIA community held for two weeks starting in late July.

Brunelle then read a prepared statement, which caused Evans and Miskimins both to quickly look at him in apparent surprise

The short comments included the municipality “not highlighting all the things we need to be fearful of,” noting that similar initiatives would divide communities “by using identity politics and giving priority to minority groups,” and calling out “higher levels of governments and non-governmental agencies pushing to municipal councils their narratives”.

With Brunelle concluded, chair Miskimins called for a motion to accept the proclamation and flag raising. Helowka was first, but with no seconder of either Evans or Brunelle, the communication was simply received as information and no further direction was given to staff.

Then, at a recent council meeting, Walma returned. His request was to pull the item and reconsider the proposal with the full five members present.

“One thing I’ve learned in my time on council is that the only real weapon that any council wields is words, and the biggest one you can do is support,” stated Walma. “We have come a long way. My first term of council was the first time that we had raised the rainbow flag for Fierté Simcoe Pride; we’ve done that for every year since. This is taking it one step further.”

Helowka immediately seconded the motion, adding that many of his friends in the 2SLGBTQIA community “struggle to get their information out there that they are a people like everybody else”. Miskimins also lent his full support, adding that the township’s guiding principles included being an inclusive community.

Evans stressed that he supported inclusion for all, but said that the township could theoretically fly “two or three” different representation flags per week.

“I’m going to oppose this motion,” Evans reasoned, “because I feel it’s setting a precedent that we’re setting ourselves up to disappoint people that we may not be able to support, and we’re indirectly validating some causes to be more worthy than others.”

Brunelle reiterated his stance of opposition, choosing to quote from a truncated news report of the Township of Norwich council who, the night prior, had opted to exclude Pride flags being flown on their property.

With the second discussion finished, Tiny council voted to formally support the Fondation Émergence recommendation.

Of note was that Brunelle additionally voted against the recent Huronia Airport Commission sale due to its immediately-followed listing on the council agenda, seemingly mistaken that it was connected to the inclusivity resolution.

The correspondence regarding the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia proclamation can be found in the early April agenda page located on the Tiny Township website.

Archives of council meetings are available to view on Tiny Township’s YouTube channel.

By Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 03, 2023 at 09:34

This item reprinted with permission from   Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
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