Love is love. I think that is the main thing to remember on a day like today. It is easy to discriminate against anyone based on a difference. If we choose to separate ourselves based on these differences, we will continue to work against each other instead of uniting in our diversity.

Maggie Scanlon
Maggie Scanlon, Chair of the St. Thomas-Elgin Rainbow Alliance, giving the opening remarks. Photo

Growing up here, one of the biggest and most positive shifts I’ve seen in recent years is our community’s movement towards inclusivity. Homophobic harassment was something I and many of my classmates dealt with on a daily basis from peers throughout elementary (Sparta), high school (CECI), and University (York). It is important to note that this harassment was directed towards people regardless of their sexual preference. It led to an unhealthy culture where people would seemingly compete to be considered hyper-homophobic in the school. I expect it was their way of attempting to insulate themselves from the homophobic attacks of others.

The effects of this are two fold. On one hand it isolates a part of our community, on the other – in my experience – it limits what colours boys will wear or whether they will participate in activities like dance, theatre, or the arts. So when people try to silence this issue, and claim it has no relevance, I would argue it does.

When I was in elementary and high school the teachers seemed to be one of the few groups willing to openly speak out against homophobia, unlike today.

So when people say, “What is point of having Pride events?”, “Why should they get a flag on a government building?”, these are the experiences I relate to them – and I also ask them if they’ve seen a shift towards inclusivity since these events started happening over the past couple decades. The answer so far has always been yes, which is the best argument I can see for continuing to support them.

St. Thomas Pride Flag Raising - Mayor Joe Preston
Mayor Joe Preston talking to the assembled group. Photo by Grayden Laing, Laing Studios/Establish Media.

In my opinion the words of the leaders in our community will help to bolster and support those in our community who are feeling alone or unsupported and will also hopefully curb the impulse for others to use homophobic slurs. And if you or someone you know does need help dealing with these issues, reach out to the St. Thomas-Elgin Rainbow Alliance to find resources in our community to help support you.

Joe Preston helping to raise the Pride flag at City Hall.

 

St. Thomas Pride Flag Raising
Police Chief Herridge joking with a local family at the event. Photo by Grayden Laing, Laing Studios/Establish Media.

With all this in mind, I asked our police chief what he would say to people that question the need for events like today, and Chief Herridge said “I think we need to educate the public, like Minister Yurek said, love is love – it doesn’t matter who you love, and we need to ensure people are educated. Community enhancement and well being is about accepting someone for who they are no matter their choices in life. And for the police, we accept that. We accept diversity. We accept inclusivity and we have that in our organization and we promote that within our organization. We have the pride flag flying. We put it up this morning in support of pride week this week and we will partake in some of the events – so it is very important to continue educating the public and just show, let’s all accept and respect each other for what we are.”

Our Mayor, Joe Preston, had this to say, “It’s an inclusivity thing, it’s a welcoming thing, St. Thomas is such a great community for it’s ability to welcome all, so this just shows another piece. The pride flag raising is, and this is my first as Mayor, and it’s really quite emotional, it’s a good thing to see this size of a crowd out and St. Thomas being this inclusive.”

St. Thomas Pride Flag Raising
Jeff Yurek, MPP, addressing the group at the Pride flag raising. Photo by Grayden Laing, Laing Studios/Establish Media.

Jeff Yurek, our MPP, gave a great speech and shared this after the event, “I just want to thank the leadership of Maggie and the City of St. Thomas for raising the pride flag and it shows the diversity of our community and the fact that we are supportive of everyone in our community, it doesn’t matter who you love – it just matters that we get together and make Ontario and Canada the best place to live.”

St. Thomas Pride Flag Raising
Karen Vecchio, MP, talking to the assembled group about the importance of being an ally. Photo by Grayden Laing, Laing Studios/Establish Media.

Karen Vecchio, our MP, and an ally also had words to share, “It’s really important, especially in St. Thomas where we all grow together, this is the fourth year and it continues to grow and grow and grow. Myself as an ally, and I see so many other allies, and community leaders coming together. It’s so important and it continues moving the movement forward and inclusion to becoming something that we’ll actually have in time.”

Maggie Scanlon, Chair of the St. Thomas-Elgin Rainbow Alliance, who helped organize the event today had this to say, “This is our fourth year raising the pride flag at City Hall, so it’s very very exciting, and every year there seems to be more and more people coming out to show their support, which is fantastic. So, very exciting!”

There will be more events throughout the week, follow the St. Thomas Elgin Rainbow Alliance Facebook page for details.

St. Thomas Pride Flag Raising
St. Thomas Pride Flag Raising. Photo by Grayden Laing, Laing Studios/Establish Media.
St. Thomas Pride Flag Raising
St. Thomas Pride Flag Raising. Photo by Grayden Laing, Laing Studios/Establish Media.