I may disagree with city council on a lot of things — Hello, new stadium tax!— but, I’m confident human rights is one area where we agree. That’s why I’m pretty sure the controversy that erupted on the weekend over the absence of a pride flag outside city hall is due to an oversight and not a statement in itself.
Sure, cities across Canada are flying the rainbow flag to show their solidarity with imperilled LGBT communities in Russia and around the world. Cities like Victoria, Vancouver, Whitehorse, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec, Halifax, St John’s, Moncton and Fredericton. Heck, even Premier Brad Wall came out, as it were, over the weekend as a supporter of human rights and an opponent of discrimination and had the flag hoisted outside the legislative building.
But honestly, if it weren’t for this controversy I can see how you might overlook the urgency of this gesture.
I know this because if Toronto’s crack smoking mayor, Rob Ford, hadn’t created a media firestorm by insisting the pride flag be taken down in his city, I wouldn’t have known this was a thing to do. I’d totally missed it and that’s why I wasn’t hollering on the blog or e-mailing my councillor to have the flag raised in Regina earlier. In part, it slipped past me because I’m not following the Olympics. Frankly, the number of sports I give a fig about is really short and none of them are represented at these games.¹ And the other thing is, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the city recently released its annual budget. I find that infinitely more interesting than coverage of the winter games.²
And you know what… I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Mayor Fougere and the rest of our council have been similarly occupied by their 2014 budget and the fallout they’re very probably receiving from that. It proposes a seven per cent mill rate increase. That’s the largest this city has seen since 2003. Perhaps in all of the 21st century. That’s a significant change of direction from all those years of trying to get to zero.
So yeah. I suspect once our council and administration have a second to look up from their columns of numbers, they’ll recognize raising the pride flag is something worth getting behind. I’m certain they’ll ignore all the nonsense like “the Olympics is about athletes not politics” that seems to be driving respondents to a poll on the Leader Post. And definitely they’ll be unimpressed by those who call raising the pride flag at this time an empty gesture.
First, the Olympics has always been political, both as a forum for naked displays of mindless patriotism and as a place in which governments are free to play games of one-upmanship over one another.
And second, Russia, host of this Olympics, seems to be going out of its way to demonstrate to its LGBT population how vulnerable they are to repression and violence. And by extension, with the international media throwing a spotlight on this, the world’s LGBT population is being reminded every day of these games of how fragile are the rights they’ve won.
By flying the pride flag, cities around the world are saying they do not stand with the thugs and the bigots. They’re saying to LGBT people that they’re a welcome part of our communities and we will defend them. It’s similar to how Regina has already raised Metis and Treaty flags in an unprecedented move to show First Nations people that we are proud they are part of our city.
That’s why I’m confident the City of Regina will raise the pride flag. Likely by the end of today. Because it will show Regina’s LGBT community that we celebrate them, we are proud of them and we will stand on guard for them.
That’s what flags do.
¹ Sports Paul gives a fig about: Soccer. Roller Derby. I’m thinking about adding cricket to the list. And because I grew up largely in Edmonton, I can feign an interest in hockey if cornered.
² I find it so interesting, in fact, that I’ve been live tweeting the budget as I read it. You can follow when next I sit down with it at @PDCityHall (the Twitter account I use to tweet from city council meetings). And you can catch up on what I’ve written so far by checking the #YQRBudgetLive hashtag.
³ The version of this I originally posted had “welcome them” instead of “celebrate them” here. I was writing this really quickly (it’s a first draft) and even as I typed “welcome” I knew it wasn’t strong enough for what I was trying to get across. But I had to get Dash to playschool and couldn’t wring my hands over wording any longer. On the way home it hit me that “celebrate” is closer to what I want there.