• Apology to London’s LGBT Community Must Come From Council

    When I first arrived in London (much younger) the Mayor of the day was defending herself and her council at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal for refusing to declare Gay Pride Weekend in the city. As a gay person who was still in the closet at the time, it certainly made it feel like the city really didn’t want me or–anyone like me–to make London home.

    The feeling London was an unwelcoming city for LGBT people was further reinforced by a police force under the leadership of then chief Julian Fantino, having conducted “Project Guardian”, which proved to be little more than a witch-hunt of the gay community. Over two dozen gay men were arrested for alleged involvement in a “child pornography ring”. While several men would be convicted of other crimes (such as drug possession), no child pornography ring was ever found. Our federal representation wasn’t any better. MP Pat O’Brien representing London in Ottawa, who repeatedly made it clear he did not and would not support any equality measures for the LGBT community. Suffice to say, the message was clear: ‘stay in the closet, we don’t want your kind here, we’d really prefer it if you left.’ And it was a message resoundingly embraced by Londoners at large who re-elected that mayor even though she took time off from the campaign in protest after the Human Rights Tribunal ruled in favour of the LGBT+ community, finding the mayor and the council’s actions discriminatory.

    Well, I didn’t leave. In fact, bit by bit, as I found my courage and my voice, I started working behind the scenes to do what I could to make sure folks like that didn’t keep getting elected.

    First I became involved with my union at work, then I started going to community meetings and talking with politicians about various issues and in 2003 volunteered for the first time on an election campaign.

    Fast forward to 2006, when I walked in the Pride parade alongside newly elected NDP MP Irene Mathyssen, who replaced Pat O’Brien in Ottawa.

    In 2007, I joined the Pride Festival president and committee in delivering the first Pride Flag that would be officially flown by the City during Pride week to then City Controller Gina Barber who accepted it on behalf of City Council.

    Fast forward again to 2011, when for the first time ever, a sitting London Mayor walked in the Pride Parade and the Police Chief at the time was there too.

    From knocking on doors and putting up signs to serving as a press secretary and campaign manager, since 2003 I’ve played a role in every election campaign at the municipal, provincial and federal level.

    walking in the London Pride Parade with Councillors Mo Salih (Ward 3) and Josh Morgan (Ward 7)

    And here we are in 2018 and current Mayor Matt Brown has issued an apology to the LGBTQ2 community for the actions of the past mayor and council.

    We’ve come a long way London. We are definitely a more welcoming and inclusive city today.

    For over 20 years the actions of that former mayor and council have haunted folks in the LGBTQ2 community. Finally exorcising those ghosts is a welcome move. I’m sure the Mayor meant well, and I’ve thanked him both publicly and personally for this important step.

    But, we missed a step.

    This apology was not backed by the City Council, because it did not come before council for a vote. The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal didn’t just rule against the mayor of the day, but the entire council who voted against the Pride Proclamation.

    That’s a problem for two reasons.

    First, it has caused some people to feel as though the apology was politically motivated in an election year. Honestly, I don’t buy that because I don’t think this sways that many votes at the end of the day. Also because I don’t think we should expect our politicians to stop working in an election year before the campaign starts.

    Second, we still have a member on council today who was one of the 13 votes AGAINST the LGBT+ community all those years ago. In fact that council member, Bill Armstrong, actually told CBC when asked about the Mayor’s apology last week  “To say I made a mistake or not, I really don’t know….Like, I haven’t been worried about any mistakes that I’ve made.

    The Mayor got the proverbial cart before the horse on this process, and that sometimes happens with good intentions. But our current mayor will not be the mayor forever. Whether this year, or 4 years from now, or 8 years from now, at some point someone else will hold that office. For the apology to have real meaning long term, the apology cannot come from just one individual. It must come officially, from City Council itself.

    I have written to City Council (London City Council LGBT Apology) asking councillors to formally adopt a motion that both affirms the Mayor’s apology and extends the apology formally on behalf of City Council. The people around the council horseshoe will change over time too, but as an official act of council, the apology becomes permanent.

    Following the proper process, my request will go before a council committee later this month, and then hopefully before council as whole soon after that.

    Hopefully this will close a bigoted chapter in London’s history and make it official that all are welcome in London, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s a message worth sending.

     

    For more on this see:

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/london-ontario-mayor-matt-brown-apologizes-gay-community-1.4484803

    http://www.lfpress.com/2018/01/12/mayor-matt-brown-apologized-on-behalf-of-city-hall-for-1995-gay-pride-parade-discrimination

     

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