You're Uninvited - Shawn Loughlin editorial
The old saying goes that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” This, of course, depends on which side of an issue you’re on. But in the pages of The Citizen recently, it’s clear that one man’s bravery is another man’s cowardice.
A few weeks ago, after his own disgusting rant against the raising of a Pride flag in North Huron, Councillor Chris Palmer heralded the bravery of a Wingham resident who wrote not just to council but to another area newspaper to espouse his religious beliefs and spread hate towards those who identify as members of the LGBTQ community. Hate and intolerance, however, are not brave. They are attributes of the cowardly and fearful, in this case, cowering behind the shield of religion.
Last year, when the raising of the Pride flag in North Huron was chewed up and spit out of a bureaucratic threshing machine, councillors said it was a question of policy and procedure, rather than intolerance. For Palmer, this year he made it clear that it is about intolerance.
He has said the flag offends him. And, even as his fellow councillors have urged him not to turn council chambers into the church he says he so loves and that governing is about making all residents feel welcome, he has insisted on shoving his beliefs down the township’s throat, rather than making decisions that are in the best interests of those who elected him.
No local reporter wants to write a column tearing down a municipal politician, but it’s quickly becoming clear that East Wawanosh residents (unknowingly) saw fit to elect someone who espouses bigoted views to represent them. Initially, I was going to just let another case of “Palmer being Palmer” slip away, but last week’s letter from Theo Sawchuk tugged at my sense of responsibility.
I’m just a small-town newspaper editor who grew up in a more liberal part of the province. My views (clearly, as I’ve come to understand in recent months) don’t necessarily reflect those of everyone here, and I’m alright with that. But when Theo said his daughter will not return to her home community after post-secondary school, it was heartbreaking.
Not every act of homophobia is a vicious beating or a profanity-laced berating at school. They can be, and often are, subtle, yet clear.
So, when Palmer derides the idea of raising the Pride flag in Wingham, that’s a message. When local MP Ben Lobb votes against a ban on conversion therapy, that’s a message. When two young girls feel they have nowhere else to turn but the media to tell their stories of racial abuse at an area high school, that’s a message. When nearly 70 per cent of Huron-Perth first-generation immigrants say they’ve faced discrimination, that’s a message. When defending a racist street name mobilizes a community, that’s a message. When Pride flags are torn down in Listowel, Harriston, Drayton and Mapleton, that’s a message.
It’s a message that says you’re not welcome. Sure, it might not be a burning cross on a lawn or one of the Westboro Baptist Church’s famous “God Hates Fags” signs, but it’s just as clear and just as hurtful. So, while I get tired of printing this garbage, it’s not about me. It’s people both young and old who are being told, loud and clear, that they are not welcome here.
Those of us who want to curate a safe, welcoming community for everyone can’t let bigotry slide. And the stronger the resistance, the clearer the need to speak up and do the right thing, because no one should leave their hometown because they’re not welcome. I don’t ever want to have to apologize to my daughter for where we chose to raise her.