North Huron rejects calls for Pride flag change, retains policy
BY SCOTT STEPHENSON
North Huron Council voted 5-1 to keep its current flag policy after receiving a letter from four constituents requesting that the policy be changed to ban all non-government flags from municipal property.
During the public comment portion of Monday night’s meeting, three citizens voiced their concerns about the letter’s content which also included a request to ban the Pride Flag from flying in June. The first two speakers, Elyse Ireland and Rowan Gaspirc, worked in tandem, trading off lines in a short, polished speech. They are both Grade 8 students at F.E. Madill Secondary School. Gaspirc is no stranger to council, having advocated in 2022 for the flying of the very flag that was being disputed that night. The two students spoke to their own real life experiences.
Ireland explained that “to be young and queer is to be hated,” and Gaspirc added that LGBTQ2S+ students are “respected less as a human being.”
They went on to address the letter, offering the opinion that only some people are represented by municipal flags, as there are still some remaining residents that refuse to recognize the rights of LGBTQ2S+ citizens. The two also expressed deep concern about the rise of anti-queer and anti-trans lawmaking in the United States, and the possibility of it spreading northward.
Ireland then addressed council directly, explaining to members that, “instead of supporting bigotry and being that sort of politician, we think that you should start focusing on the problems within the school system, and the discrimination that happens inside of it, which might be helped by flying the Pride flag.” Gaspirc finished the sentiment, telling council that, “your support will hopefully help show people that hate is not welcome in this community, and that everybody is appreciated.” The two speakers returned to their seats in the midst of applause from the audience.
The third speaker was Rachael King from the Blyth Centre for the Arts. She spoke on behalf of “all of the artists, technicians, volunteers and staff,” and requested that council uphold North Huron By-law No. 100-2021, which states that “The Corporation of the Township of North Huron recognizes the symbolism of displaying flags as a visual statement that speaks to the solidarity that is shared by all citizens.”
King also expressed gratitude to council for having been open to change in general and the Pride flag specifically over the past two years, saying that, “this act of solidarity and respect represented the best of what we can be as a community - a place of acceptance where we love our neighbours, welcome strangers, and treat each other as we would be treated.”
King also ensured that council was aware of potential legal consequences for another Southern Ontario township in regards to its recent decision to limit the types of flags flown outside their municipal buildings.
The letter in question was written jointly by Jason Dickert, Julie Dickert, Jake Kikkert, and Annie Kikkert. It first requested that North Huron alter its flag policy to ban all non-government flags, including the Pride flag, from municipal properties citing that they believe “that to open the door to flying flags that represent any particular group, organization or ideology will only divide rather than unite.” The letter went on to call for council to vote down a motion to acknowledge June as Pride Month in the municipality, carried on with the statement that the foursome’s requests were “not perpetuating or endorsing homophobia,” and concluded with the comment that “there are far, far more people on this side than the other.”
Councillor Mitch Wright spoke in favour of keeping the current flag policy. “I see flying the Pride flag as similar to the Indigenous land statements… there have been past wrongs, and they’re not righted yet,” he explained. “Flying the flags we have also represents the bullies and the bigots, and the Pride flag doesn’t.”
Councillor Chris Palmer voiced skepticism as to the value of using flags to show support, asking if flying the Pride flag for only a single month would be enough to deter bullies. “It’s a nice gesture, but it doesn’t go far enough… it does not close the mouths of the bigots out there,” he said. This is a much softened stance from Palmer’s “no to everything” approach to the Pride flag last year, though he still advocated for a simpler, three-flag system, which would mean changing the flag bylaw instated in 2021.
Palmer then broke protocol by addressing Ireland and Gaspirc directly, advising the two activists that “of all the countries that are in the world, you’re living in a good one.” A point of order was called by Deputy-Reeve Kevin Falconer, who quickly motioned for the flag policy to remain unchanged. The motion was seconded by Councillor Ric McBurney, and passed with Palmer isolated as the lone holdout.