By Trevor Busch
The Taber Equality Alliance’s rainbow flag will not be flying from the town’s main flag pole at the entrance to the Administration Building in mid-June, following a split decision by town council.
The group was requesting council’s support for hosting a ceremony in front of the Administration Building, utilizing the town’s main flagpole for a Pride flag raising that would coincide with the planned Taber PrideFest event being held on June 12, with the intention of having the flag displayed at that location for the remainder of June 2017.
“We were planning on having the flag raising here at town hall, in front of the town hall with the flagpoles, and then afterwards, we were planning on going into Confederation Park for some music and hot dogs, and entertainment,” said Jayce Wilson, one of the members of the delegation from the Alliance that spoke before council.“In front of the town office, it would be more visible on one of the main roads through Taber, and it would show that Taber is an inclusive community.”
At their March 27 regular meeting, town council voted 5-2 to decline administration’s recommended motion for council to support the Taber Equality Alliance Society’s request to fly the Pride flag on June 12, pending concurrence from the Municipal District of Taber, at the municipalities’ shared flag location for one day only (following an accepted amendment to the motion suggested by Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux) after which it would be relocated to the town’s rear flag pole at the southeast corner of Confederation Park for the duration of the month. Coun.(s) Rick Popadynetz and Laura Ross-Giroux were the sole votes in favour of the motion.
Before the vote Popadynetz, who put forward the motion, refused an amendment suggested by Coun. Joe Strojwas to locate the flag on the town’s rear flag pole at the southeast corner of Confederation Park.
In a follow up motion, town council voted 4-3 to authorize the flying of the Pride flag on the town’s flagpole located on the southeast corner of Confederation Park (behind the Administration Building). Mayor Henk DeVlieger and Coun.(s) Andrew Prokop and Jack Brewin opposed the motion.
Prior to both motions, Brewin requested that each vote be officially recorded in the minutes of the March 27 council meeting.
Speaking on behalf of the delegation prior to both votes, Wilson gave a personal testimonial of his struggles with depression and gender identity issues. Wilson, who identifies as transgender, asserted his road to self-acceptance has been filled with setbacks.
“The first time I attempted suicide, I was 10 years old. I had been led to believe that how I felt was wrong and sinful. I felt a great deal of shame for feeling things I did not understand or (couldn’t) control… it has taken a long time, but I have now finally been able to learn to love and accept myself. Not as a boy or a girl, but as a being. I’m now OK with being transgender and wear it as a badge of honour. My hope is that through the efforts of TEA (Taber Equality Alliance), we are able to prevent someone else from going through the same misery that I have felt.”
This testimonial saw a strong reaction of support from members of the large delegation from the Taber Equality Alliance that filled the chamber gallery.
Wilson and Kristi Austen, another presenter, cited a Forum Research Poll from 2012 which suggests that as much as five per cent of adults aged 18-59 in Alberta identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ).
Using this statistical information, the delegation suggested that if Taber’s population is currently 8,428, as many as 421 people in the community could potentially identify as LGBTQ, and of those numbers, some 194 could be students or youth (based on a population of school age children and youth of 3,879).
This statistical evaluation was employed as a justification for the request to fly the Pride Flag from June 12 to June 30, as this would roughly represent five per cent of the days of the year, for five per cent of the population.
“We still need a pride day because we need an increased education and understanding among many adults — and some youth — in the community,” said Christy Storrs, an education assistant in Taber, in a written testimonial. “I know that some of these LGBTQ youth do still face outward and hidden bullying because of their sexuality or gender identity.”
Administration pointed out that as it was the group’s intention to have the flag located on one of the poles in front of the Administration Building, as this is a shared flag location (M.D. of Taber and Town of Taber) the group would also need to secure the consent of the M.D. of Taber.
“We need to have the approval of both the M.D. and the town to raise the flag there,” said Ross-Giroux. “Whereas the flag pole in the southeast corner of the park apparently belongs strictly to the town. Would that be a good alternative for you, if we cannot get permission from the M.D.? Because you would have to go to the M.D. and do a presentation also to ask.”
Wilson suggested that should there be problems securing the permission of the M.D. of Taber, the town’s rear flag pole would be an acceptable solution.
“I think it would probably be a good alternative, if that’s not available for our use.”
The Taber Equality Alliance Society formed from a need to increase safety and support the LGBTQ community, with a goal to create a safe space in the community for sexual and gender minorities and their allies. The Alliance is focused on fostering a more welcoming and inclusive community through engagement, partnerships, social groups and advocacy. The Alliance is incorporated as a not for profit society, and is a member of the Taber and District Chamber of Commerce.
Administration would also note that, “council could consider what precedent this would set regarding other group’s requests for utilizing the town’s flagpole for their initiatives and events.”
“At the present time at our front, we fly three flags, which is our Canadian flag, the Alberta flag, and the Town of Taber flag, and of course the M.D. flag,” said DeVlieger. “The reason being that the Canada flag represents all Canadians, the Alberta flag represents all Albertans, and the Taber flag represents all the Taberites, on an equal basis. That is the reason why we fly these flags, and I think as far as I know, at this time it’s never been any different flags then those flags.”
DeVlieger’s assertion was immediately called into question by Ross-Giroux, who noted present council had already made an exception for another flag in mid-2016.
“I have to take exception, Mr. Mayor, we did fly the Japanese flag last Cornfest for one day. But I also worry, too, about setting precedents. I have no opposition to raising the Pride flag at our town pole in the southeast corner of the park. As much as I would love to have it out front, I understand the reasons why we cannot without the approval of the M.D. If we were to fly it for the month, I don’t know how many other groups in town would come forward saying we need to fly ours for a month. I certainly agree with the ceremony, I personally would love to attend.”
At their Aug. 15, 2016 regular meeting, town council had voted unanimously to fly the flag of Japan on Aug. 26, 2016 in recognition of the visit of Consul-General Kunihiko Tanabe of Japan to Taber, while in early May 2011, previous council also made the decision to fly a ‘Day of the Miner’ flag at the Administration Building to recognize the community’s past coal mining heritage.
In both resolutions, the decision did not include an official direction to consult the M.D. of Taber for their consent to fly either flag (although consent may have been secured in an unofficial capacity). This would appear to contradict town administration’s earlier assertion that the official consent of the M.D. of Taber would be required before a Pride flag could be raised.
A Japanese flag was also flown in front of the Administration Building in February 2005 in honour of a visit by another consul general of Japan, Yoshikazu Takeuchi, although it is unclear if this was by official council decision.
“We also need to realize — as you all well know — that there’s plenty of confusion, misinformation, and strong opinions about your group,” said Coun. Randy Sparks. “People don’t understand what you’re all about, and you can come and shake your heads and say, ‘put that flag up there’. And the flag should probably go there, because you’re very passionate about what you believe in, and we as individuals need to be accepting of your beliefs and what you have to say. But that doesn’t mean that I agree, but I can be accepting. That doesn’t mean someone’s a bad person who wears the rainbow, because they’re not. But at the same time, the flags out front here are the flags of our country, our province, and our town.”
In conjunction with the flag raising, Taber Equality Alliance Society plans to host a gathering in Confederation Park with music, free hot dogs, and snacks. In a letter submitted to town council in mid-March, Taber Equality Alliance Society chair Jillian Demontigny and co-chair Kathleen McKenzie also invited Mayor Henk DeVlieger and town council members to attend and “partner” with the flag raising in a one hour ceremony which would feature speeches and a moment of silence.
“Right or wrong that we had the Japanese flag up there for one day, I honestly believe that that’s how it should stay,” said Sparks. “We’re not trying to relegate you guys to the back where no one can see the flag, that’s not what this is all about. These are the flags that are here, and should stay there, whether they be half mast, or full mast. I believe you should be happy if the Town of Taber says yes fly your flag out there. You might have to take a step back and say that’s not quite what we wanted, but that’s farther than maybe we thought we were going to get. So let’s fly that flag back there, have your get together, be proud of the flag back there, if that’s what council decides.”
An alternative motion put forward by the town administration had also suggested that, “consistent with the Town of Taber’s unwritten policy to not support external interest groups’ requests for designating particular themes, days or times, council denies the request from this particular interest group.”
“We’re all equal in our country — I fully accept that we have to accept each other, the way that we are — but I also represent the Town of Taber, and the people that are here, and we have to make a wise decision,” said DeVlieger. “At the moment, I feel that I cannot vote in favour of this.”
Sparks went on to suggest the delegation from the Taber Equality Alliance should be accepting of the decision by town council with regard to use of the town’s rear flag pole.
“I know it’s an uphill battle, when you can come out here, and wear the shirt, and put yourselves out there — that’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing. And if you have to have your flag here, where it’s above all the buildings and out there for everyone to see it, please be accepting of that, and I think it will be a good thing. It’s a good start for things in the future, and things get bigger and bigger with this.”