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Flag-raisings across the city launch Pride in Ottawa

Mayor Watson denounces Russia at police headquarters

Mayor Jim Watson publicly denounced Russia's anti-gay laws. Credit: Bradley Turcotte

As service providers across Ottawa raised the rainbow flag Aug 19, several speakers reminded the city’s queer people to think of those without equal rights while celebrating Pride.

Members of the Ottawa Police Service unfurled a rainbow flag at their headquarters for the sixth consecutive year after hosting a pancake breakfast to benefit the trans support group Gender Mosaic.

Mayor Jim Watson commended the Capital Pride (CP) board for overcoming “bumps in the road” and rallying to organize an “amazing week.”

Watson, the first mayor of Ottawa to march in a Pride parade, then turned his focus to Russia, which recently passed anti-gay laws criminalizing any “propaganda” supporting gay people.

“You’re seeing the community rally up and take action and say that in the 21st century this kind of blatant discrimination is not acceptable,” Watson said.

“Pride is a great opportunity to express that outrage towards a government that clearly does not respect the individuals who are going to be going as tourists or as athletes [to the Sochi Olympics],” he continued.

Watson commended Swedish pole vaulter Emma Green Tregaro, who painted her fingernails the colours of the rainbow, for sending “a powerful message to President Putin and his administration.”

This year’s CP international grand marshal, Maurice Tomlinson, thought it appropriate that the flag-raisings began at police headquarters. Feeling safe and protected helps give people the courage to be visible, he said.

Tomlinson’s husband, Reverend Tom Decker, is the former LGBT liaison at the Toronto Police Service and created the Report Homophobic Violence program; a similar program launches in Ottawa this fall. The couple will travel to St Lucia next week to educate the island’s police force on “LGBT sensitivity.”

“That will be the most effective way to undercut the homophobia that is pervasive in the Caribbean. I think it’s very appropriate that Pride starts with the police. For me, that’s where it all begins,” Tomlinson said.

Gender Mosaic members Sophia Cassivi and Amanda Ryan expressed gratitude for the support the trans community has received.

“We have gained a great deal by being part of the overall GLBT community,” Ryan said. “Things that have been accomplished by the GLBT community have had a major impact on what we as trans people have accomplished.”

That a Pride celebration can take place in front of police headquarters is extraordinary, Ryan added, but there is a “need for more.”

The news that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will prorogue Parliament this fall means that federal trans rights bill C-279 will go back to first reading in the Senate. Ryan says she and the other members of Gender Mosaic will continue to lobby and may contact lesbian Senator Nancy Ruth directly to ask her not to amend the bill this time around. Many saw Ruth’s amendment, which added sex to the bill as a move to protect women’s rights, as a kiss of death for C-279.

“I don’t see any need for that amendment to slow down this bill,” Ryan says. “I think that amendment should go back to the House as an independent bill on its own, totally separate. Don’t impede the transgender bill by adding something that is unnecessary.”

Openly gay Constable Stephane Poirier emceed the police’s flag unfurling. Poirier said being an out police officer comes with its own set of challenges, but he was hired six years ago when changes were occurring.

“As far as working with other members, it hasn’t been that much of a difficulty,” Poirier said. “I’m a bit more laid-back, and I like to make jokes and laugh about myself, so I kind of warmed up with the guys right off the bat.”

Poirier, who is a member of the Ottawa Police GLBT liaison committee, thinks being out at work helps his straight co-workers, who may not know gay people in their personal lives, become exposed to queer people, fostering respect for our community.

After the flag-raising at the police station, the convoy of flag-raisers travelled to several other locations across the city — including the fire services and paramedics headquarters — in a decorated OC Transpo bus, before the finale at city hall.

Past CP chair Doug Saunders-Riggins estimated the crowd at city hall to be the largest ever to attend the flag-raising.

Joined by councillors David Chernushenko, Keith Egli and Mathieu Fleury, along with Ottawa-Centre MPP and Minister of Labour Yasir Naqvi, Mayor Watson read the city’s proclamation of Pride, calling Ottawa “the most tolerant [and] accepting community in all of Canada.”

Naqvi referenced Toby’s Act and Ontario’s election of the first openly gay provincial premier, Kathleen Wynne, as “incredible achievements for our province and our country.”

But there is still more work to do, he said, invoking the discrimination in Russia and calling on our government to take action. “All citizens of this world, regardless of what background they come from, their rights should be protected.”